Song of the Earth

Shatter Me

Daniel is standing in the middle of a cornfield. The maize is golden all around him, like the burning orb of the sun in the sky. Has the sun always been this bright, and he’s just forgotten? His hand comes involuntarily to his eyes.

La Niña Bonita is standing hooded and armed in front of the sun, her silhouette hard to see against the bright blaze. He may have come to associate her with darkness, with water, but the light and heat have brought about just as much death as cold and darkness.

He feels dazed—is this real? How did he get here? When is this?

“Thank you, Juanita.” Gabrielle says softly. She is standing in the corn, young again, her blonde hair hanging unbound past her shoulders. “But what happens now is for Daniel alone.” And then, the Holy Death is gone, dismissed by the senior Archmage.

Gabrielle walks around Daniel, lifting his hands with her own. Behind her, seeds turn to sprouts in the shadow of her footsteps, hope and the possibility of new life. “We’ve come a long way to get here, you and I. I think you know what has to happen now.”

One second he’s being split open like and overripe peach, the next he is standing in sunny field. An involuntary shout escapes him as the world shifts. He feels warm…he shouldn’t feel warm, should he? He lifts his hand to shade his eyes from the sun as he takes in the warmth and the colours of the cornfield.

“Did you just…” He starts, startled as he looks to Juanita. “Is it time?” There is a spike of anxiety in his tone, he’s not ready for this.

His gaze shifts to Gabrielle as she arrives, and he swallows. Juanita is gone and he is left to face this alone. “Yes…I suppose we have.” Another swallow. His heart is racing. “I do…I wish I knew why, but you’ve been hiding it from me…” There is no accusation in his tone, just curiosity even in the face of his own death.

Gabrielle sighs. “To get you ready.” She leads him by the hand. There is a narrow dirt road outside of the cornstalks, though he cannot see where it leads.

“What is mightier than an Archmage?” She asks him. “Everyone. Everyone is mightier than an Archmage! But I can’t just channel the power of everyone. ”/characters/kal" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kal has me trapped. Soon, he will unravel me from the Tellurian utterly, as if I never existed." She steals a glance with him. “This isn’t telepathy. He would have felt that. I simply inserted myself into the future, knowing all roads in your knowing would eventually lead to me. And, if I’m right…” She says softly.

“But there is a way to channel the might of everyone, the wishes and dreams and hopes and desires. But to do that, I would need support. I would need another Archmage. Or an Oracle,” She says softly. The Archmage lets go of his hand, eyes downcast. “You can be that Oracle. But I can’t force it on you. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could hide the truth from you, once the process began.”

“The belief of the many outweighs his? We only cannot stop him because we don’t believe we can?” Daniel asks. He holds tightly to her hand, willingly following and believing that she knows best.

He glances further down the road when they come to a stop, his blue eyes resting on a point over the horizon. “This all feels very Jesus-y,” he comments offhand. There is a momentary smirk on his face before his eyes turn to Gabrielle. “I let my Avatar be branded, promising to do whatever I can to heal Time…” He pauses. “If you can’t hidw the process from me…can you tell me a bit of what I’m getting myself into?”

Gabrielle shakes her head, almost vigorously. “This is more than that. If you become an Oracle, you will outstrip even me, but just in Time. You will never ascend, ever, and you may live thousands of years. But you won’t be around to experience it, because everything human in you will be dead. This is not some kind of quick path to power—only through your own Avatar could you do that. If we succeed here, people will worship you in this world. Manhattan and Toronto will be holy sites of pilgrimage. But you’ll be just a figure to them. ”/characters/will-harrison" class=“wiki-content-link”>Will, Jianyu, Alex will remember you as you were, but even they will eventually…" She holds up her hand. “Forget.” She lets it drop.

Gabrielle is offering him more power than he could ever have imagined, and she sounds so sad. This was a line she never wanted to cross. “The ”/wikis/daughters-of-mnemosyne" class=“wiki-page-link”> Daughters… they all knew on some level. They all tried to help. Kite, Kouamé, and Juanita tried to prepare you for your impending annihilation. John tried to remove what humanity he could from you, something you felt but could never really be sure what was gone. And… at the Carnival, you embraced some piece of this nature, the piece that would allow your ego to deny its own self-destruction, the ability to block and counter time beyond anything an Initiate should ever be capable of. You already made this decision."

The earth rumbles. Cracks appear in the dirt around them. “And you must make it for first and last time. Either you choose to embrace this destiny, and I help you die. Or all of this was a metaphor, a defeated stanza in a line of poetry. We will forget it could ever have come to pass, and you will fight on in whatever way you can, without me.” The Archmage’s face is impassive. “You have to choose, Daniel.”

That’s a lot of information to take in all at once, especially considering the nature of it. To say that Daniel is speechless would be an understatement. His eyes stay focused on Gabrielle long enough to hear her out and even a few second after. Its not long, though, before his head tilts toward the sky to look at the clear, blue day and enjoy the warmth of the sun on his face.

It’s another few moments before he finally breaks the silence. “I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to fall since the New Year…” He says softly. “This is much bigger than I expected.” He’s trying hard not to make his voice crack as tears stream down his face. “Damnit, Marissa, why did you have to be right?”

He takes a deep breath as he looks back at Gabrielle. “If I don’t do this…” He swallows. “Fuck, I feel like I’ve been set up for this from the start. I’ve never had many close friends or real ties. I’ve never had a place I really settled in. My family is gone.” He swipes at his face. “I just want them to be okay. I want the Cabal to be okay. I want the others to wake up.” He sniffles. “You know know what my choice is, Gabrielle.”

As soon as he responds, the violins start playing in his head, soft and vigorous. They will get louder.

Gabrielle smiles sadly at him, tears running down her own face too. The Ecstatic takes his hands in her own. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think it will hurt. I don’t think it will be a sensation you can compare anything to except Awakening.” She kisses him once on the lips. It’s not a sexual kiss—it feels holy to him, like a funerary ritual. She pulls back.

“It’s started,” She tells him, but the racing of the violins in his mind already tells him that. Will they die too, or will they be the part of him that is transformed? She squeezes his hands. “I will stay with you, as long as I can. Do you want to sit down? Do you want to be somewhere else?” Kansas is probably not where he would have chosen to die. “We can see any place, any time.”

“It’s the small things,” Daniel says with a butter chuckle. “I liked my Awakening. It was…it was like this, but I was playing my violin, not listening to my Avatar playing in my head.” His fingers squeeze tight on hers. “They’ll remember me for a little while…that’ll be nice.” He speaks of his cabal, of those he was closest to. His eyes close at the kiss, and he has to choke back a sob. There is a momentarily laspe where his body tenses—did he make the right decision? There’s no going back now.

The violins, at least, have always been soothing. Even when they played him through his death the first time, they’ve been with him through the most stressful parts of his life. “I want to go home.” He says. “I want to go home.”

And then he is home. Toronto, in his home, the way it was before everything was awful. His family is all there. Gabrielle is there, holding his hand.

“They won’t forget you ever lived. But they will forget the way you smelled, the way you laugh. Eventually they’ll forget what you looked like. But they’ll always remember that you loved them enough to sacrifice your life for them. They will remember the best version of you.” It’s both a comfort and tragedy.

The tension the younger Ecstatic was holding in his shoulders begins to melt away as the scene shifts to his home. His fingers loosen from Gabrielle’s grip and he takes a deep breath to enjoy the familiar scent of his own home. He hasn’t been here in years, not since his father passed away. To see them all, now, hurts him as much as it comforts him. They don’t know yet of the heartache they’ll face.

“It was always meant to come to this.” He murmurs softly. He’s been quite accepting of his fate for some time, but finally living…or dying through it has his ocillating through denial and acceptance rather quickly. “The best version of myself…haha. It’s nice to get to be remembered in such a way.”

He swallows, finally daring enough to release Gabrielle’s hand and take a step forward in his childhood home. He admires the decor, and runs his fingers along the old furniture. He has a destination in mind, its just gathering the courage to make it to his mother so he can envelop her in a tight hug.

Gabrielle lets him go as he enters his home, following him in silence. Is his mother real? She’s in the kitchen when her son finds her. “Daniel! I didn’t know you were coming home for New Year’s.” The last night before all their lives were shattered.

Maybe Gabrielle is the apparition. His mother doesn’t seem to see this strange woman hanging back, as she moves in for a hug.

“Mom,” Daniel smiles sadly, moving toward the older woman. “Well…I figured after I missed Hanukkah that I should surprise you…” He takes a deep breath as he steps in close enough to wrap his arms around her. “I missed you.” He whispers.

He doesn’t realise it at first, that he’s not gripping onto his mother’s shoulders, but rather passing right through her. It’s happening. It’s happening faster than he wants it to. “Oh god…” he breaths. “Not yet.” The violins rage away and it’s all he can do not to cover his ears. “I’m sorry, mom.”

“Daniel?” His mother asks, her voice thick with confusion.

Gabrielle has moved behind her. “Tell her,” She says, her voice a warning for Daniel alone. “She deserves to know. She can take it.” That… might not be true. But if Will were to die, she’d want to know, not spend the rest of her days wondering, Asleep and unable to find him in a continent plunged into chaos.

The Archmage locks eyes with the Ecstatic, just for a moment. She could do so many things… but ultimately it would be wrong for her to take away his pain, to change how he or his mother feels. All she can do is lend her strength in the moment, allow Daniel to draw from it to do what needs to be done.

Daniel pulls back, wishing more than anything he could feel his mother’s warmth around him one more time. He chokes back a sob, eyes raising to lock onto Gabrielle’s. Of course she’s right. His mother deserves to know. She deserves to know she’s lost everything, rather than having to live out her life in wonder if one of her sons survived. He takes a deep breath, trying to center himself and work through the pain.

“I’m dying, mom,” He whispers, eyes focusing back on his mother. “I wanted to say goodbye. And that I’m sorry I ran off. And that I love you.” He swallows down another sob threatening him. “I wish I had the time to explain why…I hope someday you’ll understand why.”

“Oh, Daniel,” His mother tries, impossibly, to hug him again. It doesn’t work, but it seems to drive home the truth of what he’s saying. Tears fall from her eyes.

“I love you, Daniel. I love you so much.” She seems at a loss for what else to say, the weight of years in her mouth.

“She will survive,” Gabrielle says, looking into her future, Daniel’s past. “And I will take care of her.” The rushing sound of waves rises in Daniel’s ears, white sound breaking everything down. And underneath, the violins, playing to their inevitable conclusion.

“I love you too, mom,” Daniel replies, the fruitless effort of the hug returned in kind. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I had so much to tell you and I never got the chance.” He chokes back a final sob as the sounds around him start to wash out.

His eyes drift back to Gabrielle, his head bobbing in quiet understanding. He thinks he heard what she said, but he’s not one hundred percent. “Thank you.” He thinks that was out loud, but he can barely tell between the crashing of waves and the violins. “It’s almost done. What happens now?”

Daniel can’t really see Gabrielle. It takes him a moment to realize she’s not invisible, his eyes aren’t really working. No… his brain is no longer processing what he sees, the shapes are there but meaningless to him. He isn’t even sure if he can see in color. He catches a glimpse of her, thinking about it, against a background empty of meaning. His mother isn’t there, that’s the most important distinction.

He can’t see, but he can hear. The violins, the waves, the motion generated moving through time (he can hear Time now?). “Jianyu. ”/characters/aaron-spaulding" class=“wiki-content-link”>Aaron. Any of the Sleepers. You can talk to them. They will hear you, but won’t really understand you until they wake up. If you want to say your goodbyes, this is your chance." She doesn’t mention going to them—something as vulgar as location doesn’t even occur to him now. He’s not the Oracle yet, but he’s something in-between now.

Daniel closes his eyes, a strange sort of acceptance coming over him as his vision begins to go. Strange, he thought it would be more devastating to him…but he has always connected to the world through sound and feel rather than sight. He sucks in a breath, or he thinks he does, as his head bobs. Or does it?

Some small part of him, whatever humanity is left, finds it strange that he doesn’t have to move to them for this. It’s a fleeting feeling, one that is replaced with obvious acceptance and dismissal. He is more than he was before.

He takes another deep breath, trying to wrap his mind around what he wants to say to his sleeping friends. The human part of him left grasps onto how important this is. Last words are comforting, so many people never get that sort of closure. He needs to take this opportunity, even if it’s importance starts to seem fleeting.

He listens to the flow of time around him before finally speaking. “I’m sorry I can’t be here to watch you become a powerful mage in your own right, Jianyu.” He speaks, whispering into the mind of his young friend. “You will be one, I know it. I love you, little brother. Thank you for all you’ve done for me…you’ve taught me more than you know.”

“Aaron…I’m sorry I dragged you into this world, only to leave you to navigate it alone. Go to ”/characters/ava" class=“wiki-content-link”>Ava. Outside of Gabrielle, you two will be two of the most powerful Time mages left in our Tradition. Help them regain that lost knowledge and rebuild." He lays the feeling of a kiss on the Ecstatic’s mind, gentle and sensual. “Good bye, Aaron.”

His goodbyes for the rest are short and heartfelt, thank yous for the Daughters for doing their best to prepare him for this, and thank you to Dylan to accepting him into his house and his family’s life. By the end, he feels emotionally wrung out, but clear-headed and a little more ready for what’s next.

Gabrielle watches how naturally he skips from mind to mind without instruction or questioning the power of locomotion from memory to memory.

It would be hard for anyone to articulate what Daniel is perceiving, though poets and writers across time have tried. He is in one sense completely blind. For all her demigodlike perspective, Gabrielle can still interact with her world and family, to feel and experience things like a human would. Daniel can do none of that. He can perceive objects in the world around him, even unthinking ones, but always with the vastness of their past and future behind him. He can see Gabrielle’s future, with all its winding possibilities, leading to different ends—deaths, and in some cases Ascensions. He can perceive the fates of those he called his friends too—America, a singular anomaly, a precious seed with no roots but with futures blooming in all directions. Alex, corrupt in every world springing forward. La Niña Bonita, one of those who helped midwife him into this new state of being. And Xifeng

“We’ve come to the end of how far I can walk with you,” Gabrielle tells him in the present. A writer might use the metaphor of them being on a road, maybe a road of stars, and that is true in feeling. A road in one, two directions couldn’t possibly illustrate the possibilities Daniel can perceive now, in the futures or in the pasts. “Goodbye, Daniel.”

The loss of humanity is a small price to pay for god-like powers. Whatever inkling of his humanity he still clings to thinks otherwise, but there is nothing to be done for that now. He is awed as he becomes aware of the scope of his vision, overwhelmed at the hundreds upon thousands of paths laid out in everything around him. The infinite knowledge is too much for his human mind to handle, but he wants to experience it all while he still can.

The fates of his friends would have once brought him joy and sorrow. Maybe somewhere they still do. It’s hard to grasp onto emotions when there are too many paths to parse. His thoughts drift from each of them, the paths very much like a road of stars. Each is a singular path leading to a singular point, infinite in number. He wonders if he could affect them, or if he even should. Wasn’t that the point of this, to protect those who are left?

There is one he needs to effect. One he needs to find and guide down the right path. He is already passing over the objects and consciousnesses of the Tellurian in search of Kal when Gabrielle announces she must leave. He stops, mind focused back into one singular point, trying to push the futures and the pasts away. He needs to be aware of this. He needs to tell her…tell her something.

“Thank you,” He says to her, reaching out to touch her mind. “For coming this far. For helping me reach this point.” He pauses. “I’m sorry it had to come to this.” That might not be entirely true anymore. “Goodbye, Gabrielle.”

Bad Trip

The passage of time eventually turns night to day, and the last moments of calm before the storm come to an end. It’s hard to watch the other members of the cabal split again, all of them off to their own tasks in this the beginning of the end. Will Daniel see any of them again? If so, which ones? There isn’t enough time to dwell on those thoughts at the moment, his focus needs to be elsewhere.

It’s with his two fellow Ecstatics; Ava and Aaron, and Jianyu that they arrive in Davenport, in the rose garden where it feels like they were last at only yesterday. He knows that they’re using a different focus in this instance, but his violin case is still slung over his shoulder anyway. “I can’t believe this is all alive.” He says, struck by the life in the gardens despite the freeze they went through, and the rains that must not’ve stopped. “You’d think it would be waterlogged by now.” He reaches out to trace his fingers along a rosebud.

He turns toward the rest of the party, eyebrows raised. “So…should we inform ”/characters/johann-erdo-an" class=“wiki-content-link”>Johann we’re here and waiting for him?"

“I already did,” Aaron answers. “We used to have a secret language. Comes from being the only two mages you know for years. If he’s out here, he’ll hear me.”

“I did.” Johann has his hands in his pockets. No matter where he stands he’s standing in mud and water. He frowns down at his feet, his brown socks waterlogged. “Why are they here Aaron?”

“We just want to talk. I brought the talky people.”

“Well…that’s handy.” Daniel grins softly. “So we just…” Wait. That sentence remains unfinished as he turns toward the new voice. “Hello Johann,” He says with a slight bow of his head in greeting. “Yes, Aaron’s right. We just wanted to talk. Ecstatics…and ”/wikis/dreamspeakers" class=“wiki-page-link”> Dreamspeaker to Ecstatic."

“Alright. Should we go somewhere more comfortable?” Johann was never one for the outdoors. He’s not even wearing shoes, so he was probably inside when he got the call.

“Sure. I’m sure there’s a dry how around here some—” they’re standing in a stranger’s living room before Aaron finishes the sentence. None of them at least will recognize Sonia’s old home. It changed hands months before the Cataclysm, so even the photos are gone.

Johann peels off his wet socks while Ava looks around cautiously.

Daniel looks slightly alarmed at how quickly Johann was able to move them, also peering around cautiously. He’s checking to make sure the whole party was safely transported before he turns back to Johann. “You want to warn us next time?” He snaps irritably. “We’re here to talk, not to be pulled in multiple directions.” Someone is a little more on edge than he lets on.

“We’re technically at war right now,” Johann points out, pointing a finger accusingly. “I could’ve just teleported your heads off your bodies. Yours too,” He looks at Aaron, lest the Ecstatic think he wasn’t included.

“Easy now,” Aaron says, holding up his hands. “Non-combat people, remember?” Hands up, he eases down onto the ottoman. “Let’s just sit down and chill, okay?” Jianyu and Ava both takes seats on the floor—reluctantly, Johann joins them. Seeing this, Aaron slides onto the floor. They are more or less in a circle now.

“So, what, we’re just going to smoke some pot and forget that Johann is going to kill you all in a few hours?”

“Actually.” Aaron draws the bong out of his bag. “Pot’s a good start.”

Daniel looks as if he would like to have a verbal sparring match with Johann, but Aaron steps in before he can open his mouth again. Instead he does as everyone else, sinking cross-legged to the floor and completing the circle. He shrugs the violin off of his back and lies it on the floor in front of him while Aaron goes to dig out the drug paraphernalia.

“Yes, basically. For starters. It’s a shared experience, Johann. Don’t you want to indulge in the practices of your Tradition before your creator wipes most of us out?” He glances at Ava, then Jianyu. The look he gives his young quasi-apprentice more or less says ‘You don’t have to if you don’t want to.’

“Are you kidding me?” Johann asks. “Guilt-tripping me?” He’s a bit past that point. Nonetheless, he takes the bong from Aaron and inhales deeply before passing it onto Ava. All of them, except maybe Jianyu, can use this to reach an Ecstatic state, so a focus like this empowers him as much as it disarms him.

Jianyu gives Daniel a hesitant look. He’s definitely a ‘good’ kid—normally he’d probably decline. But he’s also a curious one, and if they’re all going to die later today, well… he nods his willingness at Daniel. Ava passes the Canadian Ecstatic the bong next—Jianyu will be last.

“You’ve got my attention. What do you want me here for?”

Daniel shrugs his shoulders at Johann. It was worth a shot, right? “Just stating facts.” He replies. He takes the bong when it’s passed along to him, having his own moment of hesitation before taking a toke. He coughs as he exhales, then passes it along to Jianyu.

“See this little hole here?” Yes, he is instructing the Dreamspeaker how to properly use a bong. “You want to hold your finger tight over it while you light it and inhale. Otherwise you won’t get much smoke.” What a great mentor he is, right? “You want to breath deep as you do it to get it in your lungs, then hold as long as you can. Don’t worry if you start to cough, it’s a normal reaction.”

His attention is split between the conversation at hand and making sure Jianyu doesn’t have much difficulty with his first use. “You wanted to see Aaron.” He says simply, his eyes cornering to Johann and the other two Ecstatics. “He asked us to come with him.” He pauses. “Plus…I’m still curious about…about everything, really. I was hoping you’d share your experiences and perspective with us.”

Jianyu pays attention to Daniel’s instructions, coughing as the sensitive tissues of his throat and lungs, unused to inhaling smoke, burn a little.

“I did,” Johann says. “Before this all went to shit. You keep on fighting and there’s not anything I can do. Sonia already died because you went up against Kal.” Aaron’s face freezes. “Why don’t you do something then?” He interrupts. “I mean, are you my friend or not?”

The homonculus’ face softens. “I was your friend. Before everything—before, I was your friend, however it started. But ”/characters/kal" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kal is a god and an Archmage. There comes a time when you just have to fold your hand," He says to Aaron.

Daniel looks momentarily delighted when Jianyu gets it on his first try. “Don’t worry, the burning goes away with time.” He reassures. “You might get a distracting itching in your ears, though. Once you are done, you pass it along.”

His attention in full is back on the matter at hand as he sits up straight. “Did you really expect us to just sit back and let him continue on his tirade?” Daniel asks. He does his best to keep any accusation or anger out of his tone. It’s tough to keep a neutral face when it comes to Kal. “He’s going to kill us all if no one stops him. He’ll finish off the last of the Adepts of Time and then he’ll move onto us. Or when we pass our next Seekings, he’ll come after us then. We can’t live our lives in that fear, Johann. We can’t just lie down and let him dictate our fates.”

He glances between Aaron and Johann, letting out a soft sigh. “You don’t have to fold your hand. You don’t have to stop being his friend.” He trails off, not sure where he’s going with that line of thought.

“What do you expect to do about that?” Johann asks plainly. “He’s an Archmage. A god not just to me but to you as well. You don’t defy the will of a god. You ask, you implore, and he can be merciful, but you can’t beat him.”

“But you told ”/characters/america-anders" class=“wiki-content-link”>America that Kal and Kate were coming," Ava points out. “So you were willing to defy him then.”

Johann looks away. “I was wrong to do that. I thought Sonia would have a better chance if she had a warning. Maybe if I hadn’t she’d still be around.”

Aaron’s arms are still crossed. “So you found me and befriended me because Kal told you to, only you were really my friend at the end. Friends take risks for each other, Johann. Kal is going to kill us all today, so why don’t you do something about it?”

“Fuck it. Do you have anything better than this?” The German asks, gesturing at the bong and changing the subject.

“A god who has been a plague on the Tellurian.” Daniel says. “A god who has committed a massive amount of genocide to your own Tradition, and to so many others. I don’t know what to do, but I know it has to be something. I will not ask for mercy from him. Mercy will get us nowhere. It will get us to stagnation and to waiting and wondering about the day he decides to take that mercy away.”

Aaron and Ava are better at reasoning than him. Daniel is too emotional on this subject and he knows it. He sits back, trying to shut up and release the tension in his body. His shoulders sag and his arms relax. “We would be stronger with you and your insight, Johann.” He says softly. “Or at least, if we could have your word that you wouldn’t remain on the sidelines in this.” He glances at Aaron and his bag of tricks. “Of course we do.”

Aaron pulls out some hallucinogens. Jianyu looks both uncomfortable and curious, but Aaron lets Johann take his pick. “Do you even have a plan?” Johann asks, too neutrally. He and Aaron partake first.

This time, Daniel places a hand gently on Jianyu’s arm in reassurance. He leans in to whisper to him. “Remember, the choice is yours whether you do this or not. No one will force you, okay?”

“Kal ”/characters/gabrielle-harrison" class=“wiki-content-link”>isn’t the only Archmage left in the world, Johann." Daniel deflects as he sits back up.

“It must be so weird to be you. Or stressful. Kal already allowed the continent to be broken. He’s ended the Technocratic paradigm. None of you have any power against that.” Ava takes the next hit before passing to Daniel.

It doesn’t take long—Daniel might not even be finished—when Johann tries to rise to his feet. “What did you do? That wasn’t… wasn’t just LSD.”

Aaron tugs him down. “We’re not going to hurt you Johann.” He tells the Ecstatic. His eyes are cold. “You’re just having a bad trip. Too much judgment.” Yes, he’s gaslighting the homonculus. “Take a deep breath and try to relax. No one else is having a problem.”

“Not alone, we don’t.” Daniel agrees. “And not by normal magical means, maybe. But…we shouldn’t have had the power to figure out how to fix the weather, right? We shouldn’t have had the means to save Aaron from the Starlight Passage, either. We did both of those things, though. We’ve gotten pretty far because we’ve worked together.”

He’s in the process of dropping the acid when Johann starts to make a fuss. His blue eyes flick up on the German, then back to his hands. Aaron has this under control. He finishes off and holds his open hands out to the Dreamspeaker with a questioning look.

Jianyu shakes his head once. He knows Johann’s trip is just because Aaron laced his drugs… but if they’re going to act like this is all in Johann’s head then it’s natural for him to act reluctant.

The homonculus pulls back, rubbing his face as he looks around at them. “Sssh,” Aaron says, catching his hand. Slowly, he pulls Johann in for a hug, holding the taller man in front of his body. It looks like a very intimate, soothing way to hold someone and chase their demons away. But his friends can see his expression—devoid of feeling.

The rest of their trips pass fairly normally, until abruptly Johann is just gone. Aaron hardly has time to register his surprise before he falls asleep. Jianyu hits the rug behind Daniel.

Ava looks at Daniel, eyes wide.

Daniel nods and sets what’s left of the drug on the floor in front of himself. “No one is here to hurt you, Johann.” He says softly.

He watches Aaron with a look of deep sympathy, reaching out with his mind magic to sooth him. It’s not much, but it’s all he can offer at the moment. As the rabbit hole gets deeper, the emotional range does as well. He expands it, sharing a warm feeling of love and support he has for his friends. If this is one of their final moments together, he wants it to be a good one for all of them.

Of course, that is all cut short by the sudden change in atmosphere. He can feel his anxiety spike as both mages collapse, his first instinct is to turn to Jianyu and check him over. “Oh no…no no no not yet.” He whispers. He looks over at Ava, the same surprise she is probably feeling on his face. Are they next? “Are you okay? Do you feel okay?”

“I’m okay,” Ava says. “If Kal’s taken him… let’s contact the others.”

Missed Connections

Time keeps on ticking. Daniel left the feast not long after Gabrielle ended her Time effect and the first few people started to leave afterward. He was a man on a mission, desperately wanting to check in on his young friend. Time passed, the night growing later, and eventually he found himself with the desire to roam again. This time, he has his violin in tow as he searches and discovers the Chantry castle.

“If only I had more time,” He muses softly, smirking at his own remark. To slow down time, to go on a grand adventure to look into every nook and cranny. But there are more important things to be concerned with, more pressing matters in life. He sighs and travels on, looking for a room to play in. Something with decent acoustics and out of the way of others.

He’s in and out for a while, always knocking and waiting before he peeks his head in a room. You can never tell what’s someone has taken up as a bedroom/suite and what is just another empty room. It’s in this instance, on the other side of a door, that he knocks and waits for an answer before just stepping into the room that Aaron may have taken up residence in or has just gone to discover himself.

Aaron looks over, surprised to see Daniel here. Then a smile plays over his face. With Will there’s a certain awkwardness that comes from one of them feeling much more connected than the other, but with Daniel? They’ve been lovers in this timeline, and connected in the Starlight Passage before that. With Daniel he knows the feelings are genuine.

“Hi Daniel. Come looking for me again?”

“Oh Aaron!” Daniel exclaims softly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” The feelings are genuinely mutual, judging by shy yet pleased smile that blossoms on his face. “Hmmm…not exactly, but I cannot say that I’m disappointed to find you. I was looking for somewhere to play. I can only imagine that there must be some grand hall with the best acoustics around this place, somewhere.” He holds up the violin sheepishly, then pauses. Maybe rethinking his plans. “Do you mind if I come in?”

“You can play in here,” Aaron smiles. “It looks unoccupied. It’s not like I have any belongings to put anywhere, anyway.” He cocks his head. “Want to spend the night?”

“Straight to the point, huh?” Daniel asks with a laugh, his tone warm and lilting. The Ecstatic steps into the room, nudging the door with his hip(as his hands are occupied by violin). “I would like that. Yes. Thank you.” He doesn’t bring the violin up to his chin right away, but steps in closer to Aaron. “Speaking of the whole…no belongings thing…how are you holding up?”

“Well I’m usually not with strangers. But we know each other and this is our last night before everything goes to shit. Again.” Daniel wasn’t the only one who died on Saturn.

He steps closer as Daniel does, laying his hands on the mage’s shoulders. He looks like he wants to kiss him, but he’s waiting to read the other Ecstatic’s body language.

“I’m holding up okay. This isn’t really the right time to go Ikea shopping. The relationships are the weird part.”

“Yeah, that is true.” Daniel agrees. “It’s been a roller coaster of shit since the Starlight Passage…” He pauses. “Sorry about that. I’m glad…I’m glad you are okay, though. After the Passage. After Saturn. It’s a lot of shit to deal with as quickly as you did.”

Daniel doesn’t pull away from Aaron’s touch, nor does he tense up in any obvious way. In fact, he makes eye contact with the Ecstatic mage, and licks his lower lip slowly.

“No, I suppose it isn’t. Maybe after all the shit has been flushed away.” He says. “Do you want to talk about it at all? I’m more than happy to listen.”

Instead of responding, Aaron leans in to kiss Daniel. He’s quite a bit taller, and he knows how to use his height and mass to make somebody feel good. He pulls back gently. “Talking good. Touch good,” He answers. Usually he’s more… flippant than this, but the threat of their impending death has him more tender and needing to connect.

“Once this is all over, I want to figure out how to reconnect to this world. I’ve aged, and the people I love don’t even remember me.”

Daniel pushes up to his toes into the kiss, his arms reaching up to wrap around Aaron’s neck. He’s careful of the violin and bow in his hands as he does it. He’s not trying to take out an eye or knock him over the head with the instrument. “Mmmn…yes. I agree.” He breaths.

Daniel leans his head forward against Aaron’s chest after the kiss ends. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of rebuilding those relationships…though I can understand why you might not want to do that. I know some people, if you are looking for a fresh start.” He pauses, warring with himself as he decides on his words. Aaron will feel a momentary tension that bleeds out of his shoulders before he speaks again. “I can introduce you, if you like…” If he has the chance.

“Introduce me to who?” Aaron asks quizically. It seems like the chantry, at this point, is a veritable Who’s Who of Traditionalists and Technocrats. What’s it missing, an Akashic Brother? Some Technocratic Conventions, perhaps? A werewolf?

“Part of the problem is the temporal slipping through the damage to time. In one loop, I was closer to your age in the late 90s. In the last one, I was the right age for ’92, but your birthdate moved back to keep you the same age relative to the year. The Tellurian is losing pieces and forgetting details when it resets itself. Like, what happened to the Son of Ether who built this place?” Marc Hudson, a Canadian. Unlike Davey, not someone Daniel ever met. “He was around before. Did the Tellurian just forget him, or did you just never meet him? Canada and America are both countries of millions.”

“Valid point,” Daniel replies. He pulls away from Aaron for a more comfortable face-to-face conversation. “I can’t imagine everyone is going to want to live in a castle, though. There will probably be a few small communities out there, spread around to Awaken sleepers or just help the other communities they live in.”

He frowns as Aaron talks about the temporal distortions. “I wish I could say I have some insight into it. You have more knowledge of past loops than I do, though the Tellurian forgetting details is likely. It’s also likely that some of those people were erased by Kal at some point, or that the Tellurian has just given up on bringing them together as it didn’t work last time. It created ”/characters/america-anders" class=“wiki-content-link”>America, after all, who’s to say it’s not intelligent enough to know how to try something new with different people." Daniel pauses. “The Time distortions are a problem, though. If we manage to do what we’re planning and then try to start the healing process…well, what does that even mean? Make the Tellurian remember? I remember when we looked back in the Starlight Passage and found the moment when Gabirelle died—is it like that? A small wound in Time that needs a band aid.” His brows furrow in thought. “Plus…where does one even start?”

“Yeah. In the future.” Except for a few Technocrats like Charlotte who’ve chosen to see their families, no one wants to leave the castle-chantry and Gabrielle’s protection tonight.

“We can’t do more than speculate right now, and I’d rather not.” He pulls Daniel tighter, needing the contact, and holds onto him. “Thank you for getting me. Is ”/characters/jianyu-zheung" class=“wiki-content-link”>Jianyu okay now?"

Leaving the sanctuary of Gabrielle’s protection does seem like an insane idea. “Exactly.” He agrees softly. “There’s going to be a lot of rebuilding. It’d be good if we helped…” Seeing as they are partially responsible for it.

Daniel lets out a deep sigh of contentment, his arms sliding up behind Aaron’s back. The violin, presses against him gently. “Okay. Sorry. I get carried away about it.” He says softly. “It’s a failing of mine, to want to know everything.” His tarot reading really wasn’t that far off at all. “You are welcome. I couldn’t let you stay there forever.”

He pauses, thinking about Jianyu and their conversation. “I think so. For now.” Another soft sigh escapes him. “He says he is. He described the experience like existing in purgatory. Once he let go and it stopped attacking, it was just a quiet, sad place of shadows of memories and people. He said he talked to the shadow of you that still exists there.”

Aaron pulls away slightly. The violin is getting kind of annoying where it is. His mouth works. “You know, I think I interacted with Jianyu before you came to rescue me. I remember I taught him Tarot. He seemed bored. His captivity worked differently than mine.” Aaron, like Gabrielle, could dream. Jianyu just wandered without rest. At least it wasn’t too subjectively long, from his perspective.

Daniel looks down at his hands, realising the violin is indeed still there. “Ah. Sorry.” He murmurs. “You did. He told me about you teaching him Tarot, and showed me what he’s learned since.” He moves toward a table to set the violin and bow down. It’s his baby, and he did truly intend to play it at some point. “That’s what he said, that it was boring.” He smirks.

“How much of your captivity do you remember? If you don’t mind me asking, of course.” He pauses. “How did you open up your mind to the other loops?”

“Two different events,” Aaron replies. He takes a seat on the bed, allowing Daniel the opportunity to join him.

“We knew about the Time Devourer, though its connection to Will’s Network wasn’t immediately apparent. As a cabal we had explored more in the mysteries of time than the Network itself. You seemed to do the reverse, but we also didn’t have a ”/characters/katerina-kate-vasilyeva" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kate to hold Will back." He shrugs.

“We also knew about the Starlight Passage. It wasn’t tainted back then. I tried to use it, alone, to accomplish what would normally take a Master of Time. ”/characters/johann-erdo-an" class=“wiki-content-link”>Johann wouldn’t accompany me, tried to talk me out of it. He wasn’t there when Kal appeared."

“Gabrielle defended me. I mean, of course I knew Will’s mom. She was definitely cooler than my mom and I didn’t just think that because I was 16. She’s the one who told me about condoms since my parents weren’t going to say the s-word. She’d made dinner for me and Sonia before, she was generally involved when we needed an adult but let us do our thing otherwise. None of us had any idea she was a mage, yet alone an Archmage.”

“A lot of what happened didn’t make any sense to me, but at the end Kal defeated her before trapping me in a pillar of salt like her. I couldn’t directly interact but the Passage could play with my memories, if I was awake. I was rarely awake. Asleep I could dream…” He trails off there.

“My mind opened to a past loop—not sure if the one right before—where we knew each other. When I used the power at the center of the Passage. I didn’t have time to absorb more than one life before Kal interfered. Maybe I could have gained knowledge of the others, but the Tellurian showed me how the Archmage was resetting events to trigger the Cataclysm. That was a much more distracting priority.” His head tilts. “I’m not sure Kal even triggered the Cataclysm. I think once he had Gabrielle he just used the Passage to jump back so he could have one last loop to tie up his other loose ends. ”/characters/joshua" class=“wiki-content-link”>Joshua. Kite. The Daughters. Us."

There is a moment of hesitation in Daniel as he joins Aaron on the bed. He wants to say something, but he struggles internally with it. It’s after a deep breath that he finally speaks.

“You tried to use it with me, do you remember that? That was your past loop self, I think. I was hesitant about it, but the appeal of starting over when we were right on the cusp of everything was too great.” Daniel admits. Judging by how is focus is on the wall ahead rather than on Aaron himself, those events have been plaguing him for some time. “Kite, Juanita and Kouame were using it as a test, I’m sure. I failed that test, and you were lost to the Passage.” He turns toward Aaron, blue eyes bright and searching. “So sorry about that.”

“She worked in the background then? She must’ve, right? Guiding you all along without interfering or giving herself away. Trying to give you the opportunity to solve it since they had failed before?” He reaches over, gently lying his hand atop of Aaron’s. “Why did you decide to loop time back around again? What did you discover that made you want to do it?” He pauses. “What did you dream?”

So full of questions. Aaron has his complete attention though. Daniel listens raptly, engrossed in learning Aaron’s version of events. His eyes change in intensity as a thought dawns on him. “You don’t think he’d do the same thing again if he realises things aren’t going his way, do you?”

“Vaguely. I’m not sure ‘when’ that happened.” He looks at Daniel. “And you saved me. I’m not too concerned if you didn’t succeed at some attempt I don’t even remember.”

“I don’t see why he would trigger the loop. He’s a Batini. Maybe doing it once was subtle but this time he already HAS what he wants. Why go back? The longer he leaves things the way they are the harder it would be even for someone like Gabrielle to change it—and unlike Kal, Gabrielle will listen to her son on this, her husband’s experience. The only fact I think that proves is that Kal’s agenda is for things to end with the Cataclysm, not to never loop at all. If he were really a function of Time’s immune system he would have long ago settled on whatever would do the least damage to the timelines, and his actions have done the most.”

He smiles. “My dreams were pretty fun. Kind of epic too. And yeah, Gabrielle always made sure we had the information we needed without being the one to decide for us what to do with it.”

Daniel’s cheeks turn pink. “I’d say Jianyu and America did more of the saving. I was just persistent and obstinate about finding you. I led the way.” He locks eyes with Aaron. “Regardless, I’m glad you are here.”

“Yes, but why did he loop last time, when he trapped you and Gabrielle? He would’ve had all the control the cause the Cataclysm then, too, wouldn’t he have?” Daniel asks. “And why is he still so bent on killing all of is if that’s the case? His cataclysm is over, we aren’t looping, the world will need to be rebuilt in a lot of places. If he doesn’t have the upper hand and he sees that we might manage to trap him, don’t you think he’d do anything to stop it?” Someone thinks too much.

“Oh? That’s good.” He laughs. “I was worried that someplace like that would have made them horrible.”

“Maybe Kite or Joshua was too close to interfering. I don’t know, I kind of missed that part.” Aaron sounds like he’s tired of talking about it.

“I’m going to have good dreams tonight, too,” He smiles at the Ecstatic, his intentions plain.

Daniel lets out a soft huff of frustration, but he lets the subject drop. His curiosity will never be sated. The frustration doesn’t last long. Instead his eyebrows arch up on his head as the subject changes. “Oh?” He asks softly. “Well…I’d love to share those dreams with you.” He lifts an arm to drape over Aaron’s shoulder. “Show me what sort of dreams you had in mind.”

Written in the Cards

And then time was moving forward again. As soon as acceptable, Daniel removed himself politely from the situation in the dining hall. Gabrielle gave them a deadline of one night, after all, and he has things to do, people to talk to. So he wandered He wandered with a sense of purpose, trying hard not to get too distracted at the overwhelming size of the Chantry, trying hard not to get pulled into an exploratory tour of what the space is and what it could be. There is time to admire the ten foot windows and doorways to unknown places later.

He knows where he is going. He doesn’t know how(magic), but he does. He can feel a sense of exactly which room he should be in and exactly how to get to such a room. It’s the place he left his violin, and his young friend before heading off to Saturn. The walk allows him some time to reflect on the events of the past few months in relative silence…the first time he’s let himself do such a thing since New Years rolled around.

By the time he comes to the door he’s looking for, there is a budding sense of serenity radiating off of him. He died, yet here he is. His friend’s mind was trapped, but there he is. You have to be thankful for the small miracles in life. Daniel pauses at the door, a smile gracing his lips as he thinks about that. He raps gently on the door before sticking his head inside. “”/characters/jianyu-zheung" class=“wiki-content-link”>Jianyu? You awake?"

Jianyu’s room is nearby Daniel’s, about where the guest room he used to stay in is. Jianyu is sitting up on his bed. Stretched out in front of him are a collection of bits of stone—futhark runes—and a deck of tarot cards in a neat stack.

“Yes, I’m awake. I’d say I’m never sleeping again if I didn’t just sleep a couple more weeks.” He stretches his legs out, putting them over the side of the bed, but he doesn’t come over to hug Daniel. He sat on his legs and now one is asleep.

“Glad to see you made it back. I wish I could’ve gone into space with you.”

Daniel stays beyond the threshold of the door, not wanting to interrupt the young Dreamspeakers space without a proper invitation. “Ha, yeah…it’s funny how that works, right? Even mages still need sleep to survive. How are you feeling?” He pauses. “Do you mind if I come in?”

“Maybe someday you’ll get a chance to. I’m not sure I would recommend Saturn, though. I love the idea of it, of exploring a realm entirely of Time. Too bad it’s dangerous even when you are careful. Predicting what place and moment to step was…” Another pause. “Deadly.”

“Come in, come in.” Jianyu stands awkwardly and holds his arms out. “l didn’t expect to see you again. Not… you.” Just an echo in that place.

Daniel steps into the room and closes the door gently behind himself. He offers Jianyu a bittersweet smile before moving in to pull him in a tight hug. “You really didn’t think I would leave you there, did you? I was…fuck, Jianyu. I am so grateful for what you did, but I was devastated. I would have found someone, eventually, who could help me free your mind. I will never give up on you.” He pulls away, hands on the teen’s shoulders. “I’m sorry. Thank you. Never do that again, okay?” Another pause. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Jianyu says with a shrug. “Once it severed the connection between my mind and spirit—or whatever it did—it stopped targeting me. I could explore a place made of memories, even if they were bad. It’s how I went back to find you. It was just sort of…” he looks for the word. “A purgatory. Nether-world. I made the most of it.”

He gestures at the runes on the bed. “Time is my strongest sphere, even if I’m not like you, big brother. I talked to ”/characters/aaron-spaulding" class=“wiki-content-link”>Aaron‘s subconscious in there. Ecstatics sometimes use systems like I-Ching, Futhark, Tarot, bones and sticks to foretell the future, but it’s really just storytelling. That means any Dreamspeaker can tap into it and use that focus. I’m trying to see which system works better for me."

“What was it that did it? Just the passage itself or something within the passage?” Daniel asks. It’s clear he’s still curious about the Passage, even if it’s not in his better interests. Curiosity is a hard curse to break. He steps back, dropping his hands back to his sides. “Purgatory is a good word for it.”

Daniel gives Jianyu a warm smile when he calls him ‘brother’. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you surpassed me in that, someday. You are very clever and grasp concepts so quickly.”

“My mentor used to use tea leaves and tarot, she loved the tarot especially.” He agrees. “They provide a great starting point for a story, and it’s all about filling in the blanks. Depending on the spread or method you use, as well, you will find so many different answers to questions. Which have you found suits you best so far?”

“The Passage itself, I think.” The Passage still hasn’t been purified. They retrieved Aaron, and it lost a lot of its power without it, but it’s still there.

“Tarot. I know, the Chinese kid should be using I-Ching. But it’s easier to construct a story out of faces and names and scenes. The cards themselves are like—have spirits.” He sits back onto the bed. “Furthark is different though. I think it is itself a spirit—the whole thing. I’m just not sure I know enough about it to communicate with it. It’s why I’m trying to Rosetta Stone the systems.”

He leans back. “One thing is clear: you and I aren’t out of the woods yet. I think… I think some of the others might get out of this okay. It’s all probability right? But whatever was there for you didn’t go away yet. Or for me.”

“That makes sense. We may have to go look at it, when all of this is over.” Daniel says. “Not…enter it again. I’d rather not anyone get trapped in purgatory again. I do have a feeling, though, that visiting it again might be a part of the healing process for Time.”

“The Chinese kid should be doing whatever the Hell he wants.” Daniel smirks. “Use what works best for you in the moment. Maybe it’s just a matter of taking more time to understand I-Ching.” Daniel perches himself on the edge of the bed, eyes still on the tools. “Furthark is Norse, correct? Is there a particular spirit or diety who used it the most in mythology who it might be linked to?”

He purses his lips thoughtfully at Jianyu’s assessment of the events ahead. “I hope all of them get out of this okay.” He says. “I was futilely hoping dying on Saturn was enough, but it seemed too simple of a thing that one of the ”/wikis/daughters-of-mnemosyne" class=“wiki-page-link”> Daughters would block me from Seeing it." He lets out a soft breath. “Everything is probability, that is true. Nothing is set in stone until it happens…and even then we both know it might not be final.” He looks at Jianyu. “What did you sense for yourself, Jianyu?”

Something seems to go distant in Jianyu’s eyes. “Let’s do a reading for it.” He reaches for his Tarot deck and begins shuffling it. “Three cards,” He begins, and stops as one drops out onto the floor. He picks it up, careful to keep it in its original position as he flips it over.

“The Prince of Disks.” He glances to Daniel. “Disks is the Earth suite. I much more associate myself with Air, with the Swords.” He pulls up a small side table, putting three cards face down. “Swords represent the power of reason, cutting a big problem into many smaller ones.” He places the Prince over the top of the cards, crowning them. “Past, present, future.” He indicates.

Then he flips over the first card. Death. He lets out a breath. “At least it’s in the first position. Death means change. Redemption through putrefaction. I was lost to the Passage, but Gabrielle brought me to new life.” He shrugs, and flips over the second card.

The Tower. Even Jianyu winces a little. “Chaos, destruction, war. Purification through fire. This is the struggle we’re going through now.” Major Arcana both. And both fairly straightforward to read. Jianyu reaches for the last card, and flips it over.

9 swords dripping blood and tears. There is a word written at the bottom of the card. “Cruelty.” The mage says, staring at his own fate. “”/characters/kal" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kal. Cruelty… represents the moon, represents dreams. He’s going to put me back to sleep."

Daniel watches quietly as Jianyu works his magick to read the cards. He has his own scrutinizing, far-away look as each card is pulled. He sits up a little further on the bed while Jianyu works, hands clasped in his lap.

“I don’t think Disks is that far off for you, though. Not the Prince, at least.” He says. He doesn’t elaborate further, but keeps his eyes between the teen and the cards. Death in the past, that’s not surprising. Change, renewal, rebirth. The Tower causes the Ecstatic to tense up, though it’s a good reading of their current situation. “Purification through fire, but purification for who?” He asks softly.

It’s the last card that causes a true reaction out of Daniel. Part of him knows its coming even before the card is flipped, a sense of helpless dread falling over him at Jianyu’s future. He reaches out to squeeze Jianyu’s shoulder. “It’s not set in stone.” It’s empty reassurance, he knows just as well as Jianyu that the reading is accurate. “Like you said, it’s probability. There is always another possible path.”

He looks from the cards to the window. “My question is why. Is it because you are the next potential threat, if he manages to erase ”/characters/will-harrison" class=“wiki-content-link”>Will, Aaron, and America?" He pauses. “My mentor used the three card method regularly, as well. There are many interpretations, based upon the question you are asking. Past, Present, Future. Situation, Action, Outcome. Situation, Cause, Outcome. Perhaps we can prevent this.” His hand drops from the boy’s shoulder and he holds it out, palm up. “May I?”

“Well the Prince is a symbol of the fruit and seeds of Earth, so I can see the connection to potential.” He’s 16, it’s not like people have ever stopped telling him he ‘has potential.’ He hands the deck to Daniel. Daniel can take the four cards laid out of if he wants to.

Daniel nods his head, a soft smirk on his face. “Exactly. It’s also a symbol of dependency and meeting that potential.” He leaves the four cards already out face-up and shuffles the deck without them. They already know the future, what can they do to prevent the worst outcome? He focuses on his question as he shuffles the cards through his calloused fingers. It’s meditative for him, the soft sound as the cards shift, the feel of them in his fingers. He’s silent for a long time, waiting for the right moment to tug at him when he finally pulls three cards to lie face-down on the small table.

“Our current situation.” He murmurs. He flips the first one over and frowns. Seven of Cups — not off to a good start already. He stares at the card in far-off contemplation before finally speaking. “Too much of a good thing. It’s a failing of Ecstatics…” He trails off. “The damage to Time, caused by selfishly wanting the best outcome.” Wait…hasn’t he been a proponent of looping?

He flips over the second—the action—The Queen of Disks, inverted. “Fertility. Water. Bringing life back to the earth?” Daniel furrows his brow. “I can’t get a read off of this one, it’s blocked for me.” Much like his death was… “If the Queen were to represent an individual, though, I would guess Gabrielle? No, that’s not right. America? She is the creation of the Tellurian.” He trails off, perhaps not entirely believing it.

He takes a deep breath as he flips over the last card. The Outcome. “Two of swords.” He murmurs. Also inverted. Peace inverted. “Hmm.” His brows stay furrowed, his eyes still unfocused. “Blocked peace…or our two opposing Archmages, blocked from doing further damage to the Tellurian?”

Daniel looks up to Jianyu. “It’s funny how the best of intentions can really fuck everything up, right?”

Jianyu looks at Daniel. “If that’s right, then our best outcome is to let America win. Or your best outcome, maybe.” Who’s to say any two Mages will have the same end goal? He gathers up all of the cards now, shuffling them. “May I?” He asks Daniel. He drops a card as he asks, too—once Daniel answers, he picks it up.


“A good place to started,” He muses. “I’m going to try a longer reading.” He places down 10 cards—six form a wheel, with 2 cards on top of each other and four around them. Another four form a column to the right.

“The first card is the Querant.” He begins, carefully moving the top horizontal card to get at the bottom vertical. “It’s you. The Queen of Cups. The water of water. Passive, receptive, accepting of things.” The queen on the card is nearly invisible, covered in shadows. “Hidden, though. The next card is what’s crossing you, the opposing factor.” He flips it over. “The Queen of Disks. America?” He speculates.

“Maybe,” Daniel agrees with a bemused tone and passes the deck back to the Dreamspeaker. “Of course. I’m curious as to what you’ll find.” His eyes are on Jianyu’s hands as he shuffles, still using the motion as a meditative focus.

A few weeks ago, seeing Death would have gotten an automatic reaction out of him. Now he just releases a deep breath he didn’t know he was holding. Experiencing death twice, now, has taken a lot of the anxiety out of it for the Ecstatic. It’s just another path, another start of another journey.

“It’s nice to get that one out of the way.” Daniel agrees once more. “Alright.” He watches as each card is laid out on the small table, silent as Jianyu works his magick.

“The water of water,” He muses. “It’s not inaccurate.” In fact, it is very accurate. Always going with the flow, accepting what’s needed of him, but very private: Daniel in a nutshell. He worries at his lip as Jianyu flips the second card. “Perhaps. We have been on opposing sides of the Time situation.” He shuts up after that, though. This is Jianyu’s reading, he doesn’t need the peanut gallery piping in.

“The past,” Jianyu continues. He has a distant look in his eyes, his voice sliding away from the familiarity he used to express his last reading. “Success. The Six of Disks.” He looks up at Daniel. “”/characters/alex" class=“wiki-content-link”>Alex‘s ritual. The disks each represent a planet, with the Sun inside the hexagram. Like Alex’s ritual. The harmonious movement of the spheres. Why, though, Alex’s past here?" His hand moves to the future. “The Eight of Cups. Indolence. Saturn in Pisces.” He gestures to the alchemical symbols on the card. “The power is spent, the water turned to slime. The flowers droop and the cups are broken. The end result of Debauch, I suppose.” There’s something here that Jianyu just isn’t seeing.

His hand moves to the top card. “This one is your goals, your desire.” He flips it over. “Prince of Wands, reversed. The air of fire. Intellect and storm. He wants what he wants and he wants it now—but that’s not really you at all, is it?” his finger traces the edge of the Queen, trapped under the Queen representing America. “Last card is your subconscious.” He flips it over. Three of Wands. “Virtue,” the Dreamspeaker reads. He looks at Daniel, but all he says is, “Creation.”

It’s not long before Daniel finds himself chewing on a thumbnail. It’s a nervous habit he hasn’t partaken in years but it’s an unconscious gesture of his idle mind. He stares at the past and future for a long time as he tries to grasp what is probably beyond his Sight as well.

“I don’t know,” He says suddenly. He’s coming to the conversation late…or right on time…as his mind catches up with what Jianyu says. “I’ve been rather insistent lately.” The diplomatic way of putting it. “The Starlight Passage is a good example of that. It’s not normally me, though, you are right about that.”

“Creation,” He repeats softly, looking from the Three of Wands to Jianyu. It makes sense of a musician, that his subconscious would be represented in such a way.

“The next card represents advice, on your approach.” All confusion has left his tone as he turns it over. Six of Swords. “Science.” Strange for two Traditionalists to uncover the one card in a mystical deck representing Technocracy. “The swords are lying on a fencer’s diagram, which was worked out scientifically to show the positions a fencer can stand on and be invulnerable. A perfect balance of intellect and principle. Be invulnerable,” He repeats to Daniel.

“External environment. 5 of Wands. Strife. “The wands are Caduceus, Phoenix, and Lotus. After coming together in spirit, disunion has begun. Stability is broken.” His hand hovers toward the second-to-last card. “Hopes and fears.”

“Science,” Daniel repeats again, this time sounding slightly deadpan about it. Of course it would be science. He thinks back though, remembering Hypatia, remembering living her life. A Traditionalist who was also a proponent of science and maths. His eyes stay on Jianyu. Be invulnerable. What else would Kite, Juanita and Kouame have put him through Hell for? Be invulnerable. He’s been staring down the barrell at his death for weeks…months. He swallows and nods. “I will.”

Five of Disks, reversed. Worry. “The Five of Disks show five pentagrams, the binding of celestial forces to mechanical purposes. The binding of the Archmage in the Sephirot of Judgment—but of course this card is reversed, blocked. Alternatively, this card is a material crisis. The complete destruction of the material. Ordinarily I think that would be sufficient to be your fear, but we know the world and the people in it can have fates beyond destruction.” His eyes are drawn to the card crowning it all. Death.

He comes to the last card. “Final outcome.” He flips it over. The Fool, reversed. “The fool is the start of your journey. You begin again… but not really.” He shakes his head. “I can’t tell you anymore, Daniel. We both know why.”

Is he worried that the rest of the cabal’s plan is not going to work? Of course. He lets out a deep breath. “Of course.” Daniel agrees with Jianyu’s assessment. “There are worse fates other than these.”

He’s flexing his fingers when the final card is flipped. The Fool. “Hmmm.” Begin again, but not really. A involuntary loop? His Avatar moving on? The Ecstatic stares at the last card for a long time, his eyes flicking up to the death card now and then. “We do, yes.”

He lets the silence carry for a few moments longer before letting out a frustrated huff of breath. “You know, part of me definitely feels that ‘I want it now’ that was earlier in this spread.” His fingers touch the Prince of Wands. “You’d think, as a Time mage, I would have a little more patience than I do. It’s irritating to see it laid out for you, but not able to put a finger on exactly why.” Tension bleeds out of his shoulders as he forces himself to relax. “The rest of me likes the wait. If I…if we don’t have much time left, we need to savor those moments now.”

Jianyu slides the cards away. “I’ve felt that way since I Awakened.” Neither of them were at the battle in Cincinnati, but at least Daniel is aware that Trista was there, full Void Engineer now. That would be an awkward reunion. “Especially surrounded by people who can do things. My Spheres—Time and Spirit, Entropy and Correspondence and Mind—are all so ephemeral. Even after my Seeking everything I do is in my own head. I’ve always wanted to…” He holds out his palm. “Make a flame, or fly, or teleport.” He has entirely the wrong Spheres if he wants to make a flame, but Trista is the one who Awakened him, not Daniel. “To explore the Umbra like you got to. And now I think I may never have the chance.”

Daniel chuckles softly in sympathy. “Don’t ever sell yourself short for being able to use Ephemeral spheres.” He says. “You’ve managed to fend for yourself in tricky situations and you are so bright, Jianyu. There aren’t many who would have managed to escape Technocrats trying to haul them in like you did. There was one version of events during the Juncture where you did a lot of the work sealing ”/characters/joshua" class=“wiki-content-link”>Joshua away. I know those aren’t as material as flames and flying and teleporting, but they’re still so important."

He lets out a soft breath. “I’m sorry, Jianyu. I truly am. I wish I could offer more than that, but…” He trails off. They both know why. “I’m sorry Trista stepped in before I got a chance…though I think the Dreamspeaker paradigm suits you nicely. I could have taught you some basic Forces, though.” He offers a weak smile, the joke falling flat. “Believe me when I say that I’ll do everything in my power to…stop Kal from doing whatever he tries to do. If I can’t…” If he’s gone. “I know none of the cabal will give up on you or on hope.”

“Well, what’s a teenager to do when the world is ending?” Jianyu asks with a half-smile. There’s like… no girls his own age in this chantry. Besides America, and he’s pretty sure she’s gay. “I guess if you’re a Dreamspeaker you figure out the plan to help your people. Gabrielle—the Gabrielle who awakened me, lowercase—had already had a banquet with you. She told me you were going to stop ”/characters/johann-erdo-an" class=“wiki-content-link”>Johann. Can I help you?" He asks. “What’s the plan?” Besides wanting to be by Daniel’s side, it seems the right place for him.

Jianyu gets another chuckle from the Ecstatic mage. “Yeah, that’s true. Idle hands and all that, right? Back in my teens, I just practiced my violin until I couldn’t think straight.”

“Mmm, she did? Yes, that is what we’ll be doing.” Daniel nods his head. “Aaron, myself, more than likely ”/characters/ava" class=“wiki-content-link”>Ava, Jacob perhaps…" There is a part of the mage that wants to say no, to keep Jianyu safe. It wars with him briefly before he finally nods his head. “Yes, if you do not think you can offer your services here in ”/wikis/cincinnati" class=“wiki-page-link”> Cincinnati?" He pauses. “We’re going to incapacitate him. We’ve got an idea, I believe. Shared experiences with drugs as a focus. It’ll be our best bet for doing it…” Nicely? Calmly? With as little bloodshed as possible?

Jianyu actually laughs. “Your plan is to share drugs with him? That’s the most Ecstatic thing I’ve ever heard.” The mirth leaves his face. “I guess it depends on who is in Cincinnati. Where are you planning to be?”

Daniel looks pretty amused with the idea, himself. “I know, right? It’s pretty brilliant for a group of Ecstatics dealing with a fellow Ecstatic.” Daniel probably didn’t come up with it. Daniel hardly ever uses drugs as a focus, as Jianyu would know. He holds out a hand to the teen, face up, for him to hold onto if he would like. “We’re going back to ”/wikis/davenport-iowa" class=“wiki-page-link”> Davenport. Back to the Gardens. It seemed like the best meeting place. I’m not sure about the rest of the cabal, if they are staying here or going to St Louis. Gabrielle and Will are going to access the network. Alex, Karasi and Fritha are going to spring the trap. America, Sapphira, the vampires, Ursula, and her Technocrats are focused on Kal’s earthly body."

Jianyu makes a face. “Unless someone is in Cincinnati, I’ll go with you. I’m not Ecstatic but Dreamspeakers can use most Ecstatic foci anyway.”


They awaken in a great dining hall:

They’re all here: Will and Daniel, Ava and Aaron, Kouamé and Dylan, though Jessica is conspicuous in her absence. Aaron touches his body, and then reaches over to hug Daniel, and Ava. “I died,” He says, suddenly grateful.

“I didn’t die. I was alone,” Ava says, remembering being stranded in the gas giant.

“I don’t think I was ever born.” Dylan says. “Will… ”/characters/gabrielle-harrison" class=“wiki-content-link”>Gabrielle?"

“There is death and there is death,” Gabrielle says. She sits at the head of the table. “It was easy to retrieve you from Saturn, where your deaths had no impact on the timeline.”

Gabrielle sits at the head of the table—it’s large, and round, but there’s no questioning she’s at the head of it. The others are here too: Alex, Ren, Fríða, and Karasi from St Louis. America, Ursula, Sapphira, Alethia, John, Jacob. Matt and Xifeng. The Technocrats who survived the battle: Charlotte, Russ, Siera, Lacey, Trista, and Keisha. Linda as well.

“No, not ”/characters/sonia-farooqi" class=“wiki-content-link”>Sonia," Gabrielle says sadly. “There is death and there is death. Even if ”/characters/kal" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kal hadn’t done the deed with his own hand, her death was felt and impacted by all."

There is something very weird about time here. Everyone feels a pervasive sense of deja vu, and not a single time mage, no matter their paradigm, can put a date and time to when they are, can even figure out how long they’ve been here.

That is the smallest difference. Of all the differences between the Ecstatic paradigm and others, the biggest might be this: there is no cause and effect. Later, those assembled won’t be able to put their conversations into any particular order, determine which thoughts and words influenced what. Did the Avengers from Saturn know that Sonia was gone when they realized they were alive? Why did the grief from that conversation not carry over to others? Why was that conversation not tinged with the joy of reunification?

Everyone is tired, but especially those who journeyed to Saturn—and Alex—find themselves famished from the journey. Gabrielle glances at the table, and it’s covered in food—everyone’s favorite is somewhere here. Chicken noodle soup and clam chowder, latkes and cotton candy, crab and lobster and scallops, roast asparagus and potatoes and casserole. There is roast beef and spiral ham, turkey with stuffing and cranberries and rolls. Blood oranges, peaches, cocktails. There are glasses of blood in fancy shapes for the vampires. Food from port cities, food from Algeria and France and the Ivory Coast, from India and Greece and other places.

The cornucopia happens in a moment’s notice, and doesn’t even seem to require any effort for her to sustain.

“I am not a run-of-the-mill Archmage,” Gabrielle says to Alex, and she sounds completely sincere stringing those words together. “But Kal is more powerful still. At best, I have maybe a 30% chance in a head-on confrontation with him. But his chances are better now, before I’ve had a chance to acclimate my Archmage senses to my new reality. The fact that he’s not… I see two possibilities.” Gabrielle says. “Either he’s afraid, or, as you were going to suggest, he’s overextended himself and has Paradox to contend with. Or other issues.”

No one really… gets a chance to talk. Gabrielle keeps taking the words from their minds, in some cases before they even get a chance to think them.

“And you made a box to hold an Archmage,” She says to Alex and Will, and Karasi and Fríða. She tries… very hard not to sound like a mother impressed with the school project her 7-year-old and his friends made. Very hard, and fails. “I’m so proud of you! If we can get him in it, it will hold for sure. Sorry Will,” She adds, or added, or adds later. “Your father is an Etherite. But I’ll concede you won anyway.”

“And what was your plan?” Gabrielle asks Siera. “You were just going to shoot Will, or Dylan, and make me emotionally distraught? And you thought I wouldn’t notice?” Siera draws her weapon, and Charlotte rams her in the shoulder, causing the wounded woman to drop it. Gabrielle ignores her, trusting the younger mages can handle it as the Technocrats drag her outside. “You don’t understand! They deserve it! They all deserve it! Do you have any idea what this world was like? The kinds of things that humans do to each other—they all deserved this!” The Void Engineer shrieks as she’s dragged outside.

“First we need to clean house,” Gabrielle remarks. “There is one Nephandus left among you, one last one you didn’t find.” She points her out. “Siera.”

“I’m not going to loop us again. Not right now, maybe not at all.” Gabrielle says between Daniel and America. They really represent the opposing viewpoints right now, don’t they? “First, such an endeavor would leave me completely helpless—helpless enough for Kal to do a more permanent job than he managed before. Second, the difference between an immediate loop and something like this is like the difference between returning you to life,” She touches Daniel’s shoulder with her finger, “And returning ”/characters/sid-sterling" class=“wiki-content-link”>Sid Sterling, or Jahan. Those events have touched too many lives, their absence impacted too much. There is also the question of which timeline to return to—there were so many created. Which one receives precedence? How do I—do we—respect the souls that belong to each iteration?" She touches America’s shoulder, briefly.

Little details seem to change here and there. “”/characters/jianyu-zheung" class=“wiki-content-link”>Jianyu is awake," She tells Daniel. “He can join us later.”

“This place is huge,” Ava gets out as she returns from the bathroom.

“Yes, it’s the chantry,” Gabrielle responds. “I made it a good deal bigger. There are a lot more people here, and if we get through this this will be one of the great chantries of the world, housing hundreds.” Hopefully everyone in the cabal is okay with living in a CASTLE now.

The room changes. Still the great cornucopia, but more tables now. Only the Avengers and the Daughters of Mnemosyne remain at this table: Will, Dylan, Jacob, Daniel, Aaron, Alex (and his raven), Karasi, Ursula, Kouamé, Alethia, John, Matt, Xifeng, America, and Sapphira. Plenty of perspectives. The others can simply partake of their hospitality.

Alex scans over the food with little interest in it, despite his very clear hunger. He was hit hard with the news of Sonia’s death, as though he just lost his baby sister. That it took arguably the most powerful mage living to snuff out her flame provides some minor comfort. That they are going to end the threat he poses to the rest of them provides more.

He’s about to suggest that Kal may be overloaded on paradox when Gabrielle pre-emptively responds to him. Of course she’s had this conversation before. Likely many times. Instead, he simply adds, “Yes, you certainly stand apart from all the other archmages I know.” He’s as sincere as she is. He chimes in again when she brings her conversation (monologue) to the topic of the cage. “We will get him into his little hampster cage, we can’t afford to fail. It would be easier if we knew his…” he trails off for a moment before looking Gabrielle directly in the eyes, “if anyone knows this, it would be you. What is Kal’s name? With that we could compel him.” Or kill him. As many times as needed.

He barely registers the Nephandus’ little outburst. His only acknowledgement of it is to sent to Karasi, Who’s she?

America is overjoyed to see the others. Her concerns regarding Gabrielle are tempered with the reasonable explanation. She blushes a little, knowing it is entirely possible the archmage is aware of the whispered conversation between Kal and she.

America moves over to Alex and punches him on the shoulder. “You did it!” she says with a weak smile. It has been so much trauma for everyone, so many people lost, but ultimately they have a scored a major victory here. Kate is gone and the world can heal. What’s left is to capture Kal, to which she listens to the Hermetic’s idea and nods agreement.

She moves over to hug her Mom, worried after having last seen her un-moving. She checks her over, touches her tummy, makes sure she’s fine. She looks over to Ursula as well, and then steps over to Alethia and hugs her.

Will is numb. Whatever he joy might feel at having brought his mother back, at the relative success of all their efforts, is tempered by the harrowing experience of having seen five of the people in this room die, including Dylan. And the news of Sonia’s death seems to have absolutely shattered him. He sits with his parents, picking silently at his food, occasionally glancing over at Alex in miserable sympathy. Though he smiles to see America so excited, it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. He nods now and then to indicate he’s following the conversation, whatever order it may take, but seems to have little more to contribute, save a soft, “Mom, I think most of us agreed we don’t even want to loop again.” He’s watching the Daughter of Ether as he says it.

Xifeng has stayed close to Matt, keeping an eye on his condition. When they had a moment she took the time to acknowledge the loss of his former student properly. She’s been quietly trying to read his resonance, to gauge whether his condition has improved or deteriorated. When her former colleagues drag Siera out, she looks on with some dismay. She should have caught that one on her watch.

Daniel was openly weeping when they first awoke in the dining hall. “I died, too.” He speaks softly and pulls Aaron into a tight embrace. The mix of emotions washed over him, feeling too many things at once. He gave Ava a tight hug as well, murmuring “You aren’t alone anymore” into her ear.

Eventually, the emotions are pulled into some semblance of control as they find themselves seated around the table. He listens as the conversation moves…or as Gabrielle directs it, keeping quiet and in awe of the archmage. Unlike his companions, he doesn’t have much to contribute to more planning. He would rather eat and marvel at the magick at work, as well as marvel at the fact that he is still in the realm of the living.

“Could the timelines all be collapsed into one? Like what happened during the Juncture?” He pauses. “Not that it matters. We have a perfectly good one right here, now. But why did giving preference to certain individuals over others matter in the last loops?” He sounds genuinely curious to hear Gabrielle’s answer.

“He is?” The Ecstatic nearly drops his train of thought and jumps up to go find Jianyu, but Gabrielle’s statement that he will join later causes him to stop. “Okay.” He’ll wait. Not that Ecstatics truly ever have to wait.

“Yes. Of course you don’t,” Gabrielle says to her son. “But in another iteration, there is a version of you that wants to keep his experiences. The totality of his self and thoughts. There are people who were removed from the Tellurian by detonation or other means, who want to exist in the final timeline. But there are people like America who did not exist in earlier timelines.” The Archmage crosses her arms. “All of them have a right to have their experiences exist.”

“That is one possibility,” Gabrielle acknowledges, to Daniel. “A messy one. Some of the earlier timelines ended well into 2000, and we’re in 1993. Happy Easter, by the way.” Standing between Daniel and Will, she points out some eggs on the table if either of them have any interest in it.

Sapphira shows her daughter a bruise on her abdomen, but her wounds, like those of the others, have largely healed. “How long have we been here?” She asks America. The seat assignments keep changing, as if this wasn’t one meal but a series of them.

Gabrielle takes the empty seat next to America. “So you are right, in a way. I’m not the first time mage to redo events over and over again until she got a result she could live with. But the nature of this event… it was like inflicting a wound on the Tellurian, over and over and over. Fixing the weather is one part of this. But ultimately the damage to the Tellurian, to time itself, needs to be… not healed, but at least treated so it can heal on its own. Kal is an irritant to that process, because healing it would be change, and he’s becoming increasingly fixated on the way things are now as the way they should be.”

She places both hands folded across her knee, looking across at Alex. “Do I know his name?” She asks, punning on the tense of his sentence. “I did. But I’ve begun to think that may not be Kal at all. There are things that lurk in time. You two,” She points to Daniel and Karasi, “Were chased by some of them when you saw Tecumseh. If not for Alex and Xifeng, you would have been destroyed. But those were minor spirits, attracted to minor disturbances. There are things that hunt unwary Masters, and perhaps even Archmages who travel through time. And Kal was never more than a Master of Time.”

“I think it’s possible that something replaced Kal, or at least altered him. It’s why he’s singularly been focused on repeating events to their original configuration, after the first Cataclysm. But he’s made the damage to time much worse, killing the Time Masters and facilitating the loops. That makes me think he is less of an immune response than an opportunistic infection.”

“Like E. coli,” Sapphira suggests.

“Yes. Something naturally present but which can spiral out of control in a living organism. But we’re still dealing with a mage, and an Archmage, rather than a spirit, so I think the ‘altered by’ is more plausible. The name I gave you should work,” She adds to Alex.

Karasi shrugs at Alex’s inquiry. Some Technocrat Nephandus. I stayed away from them as much as I could.

“When the infection is removed, the body can begin to heal itself.” Alex continues along with the medical simile. “So when we remove Kal, doesn’t it stand to reason that the world will begin to heal itself? Isn’t it the height of hubris to think that one of us, even an archmage can fix it better than the Tellurian itself?”

Will lets out a deep sigh, raking his fingers through his messy hair. Folding his arms on the table, he just puts his head down on them with a dull thump. That’s all he has left to contribute to a conversation the cabal has already had a dozen times without the use of Time magick. From the slump of his shoulders, he’s apparently out of fucks to give.

“I agree with Alex,” Xifeng pipes up. “With all due respect, it sounds like looping time over and over to repeat the eruption has only made the situation worse. We need to remove Kal so he can’t keep murdering Time mages, but I don’t see why we should believe that we’ll suddenly get it right this time if we go back again. And in the meantime the Technocratic consensus is basically done for.” She can’t help but dart a look at Ursula and Kouamé as she says it.

This is reality,” America adds in support of Alex and Will. She gestures to Will with her hand facing upward. “Consensus is broken; the world is healing. People have seen so much to open their eyes, this will propel humanity into a new age of genius and discovery,” she says emphatically.

America looks over her exhausted friends and again counts how many are no longer among them. “The sacrifices of our friends, our family, of all the other realities is in vain if we loop again. We will not be looping again.” There is no room for debate in the teenager’s voice. She makes and holds eye contact with Gabrielle. She’s not the first arch-mage to receive the Daughter of Ether’s stare down in the last few…well America has no idea how long she’s been here, but the point still stands.

“Kal in box; patch the wound,” she says, counting one finger at a time. “If the temptation to loop is too great, for good reasons or bad, then you need to find a way to take that temptation away, Mrs. Harrison.” Even as she speaks sternly, she is respectful of this woman whose presence has been so heavily felt in the cabal despite having never met her.

Daniel taps his fingers gently on the tabletop. The easter eggs, while eyed momentarily, are ignored in favour of listening to Gabrielle speak. “Yes, that’s true. Collapsing timelines when events have or haven’t occurred yet would be messy. Which would take precedence over the others? Which events in a life would take precedence? It’s not like it’s just merely hours, like the juncture was.” He’s just musing, trying to wrap his head around the concept and understand it.

“Hmmm. Could Kal be healed of whatever…creature that has warped him? Maybe that’s something to consider after taking the bullet out of the wound, so to speak.” He glances off to the side. “Also, couldn’t the other time mages be written back in? Maybe not all of them…but if there is enough memory of a person, enough perspective, did they ever even cease to exist to begin with?” He glances across the table at Kouame. “Isn’t that part of the reason why you, Juanita, and Kite shared your memories with me? So you and your knowledge would never be forgotten if you were to perish?”

He has a thousand and one questions to ask, but falls silent again when the rest of the cabal speaks up.

Ursula’s lips tighten. “Sleepers are still using technology. Order has been restored in some locations through its use. Places like Australia, southern Africa, South America—these were least impacted by the Cataclysm and the Technocratic paradigm is still strong there. We can build the world again—in cooperation with the Traditions, this time,” She allows, sweeping her hand toward the table. Kouamé looks like he wants to speak in support, but they are not ‘we’ now.

“You could say the same thing about a human body,” Gabrielle tells Alex. “And some ”/wikis/verbena" class=“wiki-page-link”> Verbena do. But we know some things about Time. We know what Kal has been doing damages it further, but there are proactive steps that can be done to heal it too."

“And that’s where the temptation to fix things comes in,” Aaron speaks up, face solemn. “I feel it too. Knowing that with Kal out of the way, that last variable is gone. That’s what I was supposed to do, and Will. The Tellurian wanted us to prevent the wound it knew was coming.” He licks his lips, looking at Will. “Maybe it’s because I didn’t live it. I came back to a world that I don’t recognize, don’t… belong in. But if the Tellurian wanted us to protect it, then we can’t put it in a position to take that trauma again.”

“Squatters’ rights then.” Gabrielle says, pursing her lips. “I didn’t think how you all would view this experience. I knew, once, but I had forgotten that perspective.” She leans back in her chair, looking at America. “You knew that the Consensus was determined largely by Sleepers—did you know that the ‘vote’ of novices and initiates of Time carries more weight than Adepts and Masters, which carries more weight than Archmages? Not individually, but the people in this chantry have more right to make that decision than I do. There are ways that right can be enforced.” She doesn’t elaborate on it, content to give the information to America, for now.

“This still relies on boxing Kal. It’s important that he not be allowed to remove Ursula, remove Fríða, remove Daniel, and everyone beneath. I can challenge him but the odds are in his favor on my own.”

Will lifts his head, resting his chin heavily on his hand. Aaron and America both get grateful looks. He’s not sure what he was expecting when he went to find his mother, but this surely isn’t it. “Daniel, if we start cherry picking people to write back in, where do we stop? Why do we get to decide? Yours isn’t the only Tradition Kal decimated. Or were all the people jacked into the Web on New Year’s supposed to be lobotomized? What about Sonia, or Jahan or Davey?” he adds, his voice shaking slightly. “Can we just stop fucking with this, please?”

America nods to Ursula, her eyes going to Kouame afterwards.

“At the graveyard, Kal was all over the place. There were dozens of him, scattered throughout the yard. He cut people down from many places at once. Was that in his quiver of arrows or was that this – this infection?” the young woman asks, returning the subject back to the more aggressive of their two problems at hand.

“We compel him, and set up a lure in the box,” she suggests, gesturing to Alex, and then to Gabrielle. “Something he’ll want to deal with, that will keep his attention diverted from the what’s going on behind the curtain.”

“You say ‘behind the curtain’ as though he can’t steal our thoughts whenever he bloody well feels like it.” Alex says with a shrug. He’s not trying to poke holes in America’s plan, it’s simply a statement of facts. “We’ll need to assign people to this diversion who have any chance of resisting that. There’s another obstacle as well. At least two of us are inches away from being consumed by our resonance.”

“I’m not talking about the dead, nor am I talking about bringing them back to life.” Daniel replies to Will. “I’m talking about those who were written out of the Tellurian entirely. Those who exist only in our memories since Kal erased their existence.” He drops the subject though. It’s more scholarly interest for him, anyway.

“Even when he read any of our minds, he might still weight out the probabilities and decide to do it anyway. If he had a chance to wipe out the last remaining Adepts of Time and the Archmage he locked away, wouldn’t he take it? He might be too compelled by his desire to stop anything from changing further. Not to mention, he still has one Horcrux left to help him.” He picks up a few grapes from a fruit bowl and pops one in his mouth.

“Like ”/characters/sedna" class=“wiki-content-link”>Sedna, Kite, and Jessica? They are beyond my ability to reach," Gabrielle says to Daniel. She sounds sad about it, but there’s nothing any of them can do for them but fight on in their memory.

To America, “That’s simply a higher level of Correspondence and Prime. Or, potentially, Time and Prime. I can do the latter.”

“There are ways I can shield your thoughts from him. He has other avenues, like reading your futures. Right now I have all of us safe in a minor time anomaly so you can recover from your wounds and decide your plan.” That would explain the weird sense of deja vu. “If I take the battle to him he’ll be too busy with me to spare much thought for what you’re doing. I’m not sure he’d be stupid enough to go for a honeypot unless the bait was sweet enough. The remaining Adepts of Time in one place is not enough since he can just deal with them once I’m gone.”

It is a relief to hear that there wasn’t anything extra about Kal’s strength in numbers routine. Disconcerting, however that he can do it on a whim. America considers how she may use holographic technology to accomplish a similar goal. She pulls out the worn green duo tang playbook she’s used since Davenport and scrolls the concept down. Then, returning it to her jacket pocket, the brainstorm is put aside for the moment.

She grins at Alethia, checking her out. “Mrs. Harrison, you misunderstand,” she says, looking at Alethia before turning to face Gabrielle. “You are the honey pot.”

She lets the comment hang in the air for the however long time works here in this bubble: a blink and an eternity all at once? Then America elaborates, “You’ll be in the box, and make it seem you’re trying to use the power of the network to loop again. I doubt the thing that wears Kal’s face will be able to resist.”

From Will’s perspective, that settles the matter of further messing with the timeline. He rubs at his eyes, his shoulders slumping in relief. He listens to America lay out her idea, glancing between her and his mother. “It wouldn’t trap her by accident, would it?” That question is more directed at Alex and Fríða, who did the lion’s share of the work to create it. He helped to brainstorm more than anything else. Will understands America’s concerns with respect to looping again, and he’s opposed to it as well, but don’t think he hasn’t noticed her rather aggressive line of questioning.

Alex shakes his head slightly. “It shouldn’t, Will. We would attune the cell to Kal’s true name, so it should only respond to his presence.”

“The trap we made was designed to exploit Kal’s clarity,” Fríða explains. “It wouldn’t have the same effect on Mrs. Harrison even if we didn’t attune it to his true name.” She decides to adopt America’s respectful way of reference.

“But the structure is there, and Kal may be able to make alterations to it in his best case scenario.” Gabrielle cuts in. “I know it is keyed to you three, but you are new to managing this kind of power. All a Batini Archmage has to do is trick you into making the wrong change, or focusing on the wrong component of your ritual.” She reaches out to touch Will’s shoulder with her hand, holding Dylan’s hand under the table with her other. “There’s no one in this room who is carrying zero risk.”

“So. I will access your Network through one of you three, in St. Louis. It would be my son, then, or Alex. Kal knows I favor you. He will know immediately and be forced to confront me—there’s little else I could be using that much power for. Whichever members of this triad aren’t with me will need to fashion the trap. Does that plan sit well with you so far?”

“There is one more issue with it.” She bites her lip as she works it over in her mind. “His physical presence will still need to be removed for this to work.” Her eyes take in America, Alethia, John, and Ursula. “Something like you did before, though you could manage it without exploding him if he’s preoccupied.”

“Bring the boom. Got it,” America says, nodding to Ursula especially.

She thinks and then looks over everyone again, eyes setling in Matt. "Last time things got muddy. Wasn’t always clear who was black hat or white hat. Matt, you went after Ursula. Alex, you and him are both drowning in creepy. Will, you’re over 9000 on something else, I don’t even know. We need to sort this out now so Kal doesn’t use it against us later. "

“She shot me in the back,” Matt muses.

“You were being an idiot,” Ursula retorts.

“I didn’t gain jhor for raising Gabrielle, if that’s what you’re worried about. I think I lost some. More than that, I’m a Master now, of Entropy. I can set a geas, and I’m not going to lose my shit again.”

Unless you die. Gabrielle makes eye contact with Xifeng, dropping the thought into her mind.

Aside from her few comments, Xifeng has been keeping an eye on Matt throughout this discussion. He’s her Mentor; he can deal with her using him as an object lesson in detecting jhor. “He’s-” She hesitates, glancing over at Gabrielle. “… You’re not exactly better, though,” Xifeng says slowly. “But hey, congratulations.” She nudges him with her elbow.

“I’ll let you into the net,” Will offers immediately, looking up at his mother. America gets his attention, though. “Um. Well, if you want to check, you can. You said it’d be easier to tell if I was using magick?” He slides his handheld from his pocket.

“So then Fríða, Karasi and I set the trap?” Alex suggests, nodding in agreement with Will going with Gabrielle. He’s all for removing himself from the temptation to attack Kal. “What about the Daniel and the rest of the group?”

Anerica fiddles with a panel at her bracer and then raises her arm and a poof of sparkles crackle in the air around Will. She reads the results.

“What about ”/characters/johann-erdo-an" class=“wiki-content-link”>Johann? Kal might try to work through him to escape this trap." Daniel says between grapes.

Will taps an icon on his handheld, running a simple whereami rote to help America get a reading. “Johann wants to see Aaron,” he offers with an uncertain glance at the Ecstatics.

“I can deal with Johann,” Aaron says. He tries to sound grim about it but he sounds a little sick. He’s known about the betrayal since the end of the last loop but it doesn’t make it any easier for him to deal with it—anymore than Kate’s betrayal was easy for Will. The fact that Johann has shown remorse or regret, even while continuing to try to murder the Adepts, only makes it worse.

“Will you back me up on that?” He asks Daniel.

Daniel glances at Aaron, a frown of worry crossing his features in a flash. “Of course.” He offers in a reassuring tone.

“We have a plan then.” Gabrielle says.

“Kal is aware of my presence. We made contact just now—involuntarily—and he didn’t try to kill me. I asked him for tonight to spend with my family, and he agreed, in a binding fashion.” She lifts her hands as if it’s done. “We won’t move until morning. Spend these last few hours however you wish.”

America goes pale as she examines the data. She looks up at Will as she sees the resonance of the friend she had to hunt and kill. “Will,” she says softly, though its loud enough for the table to hear. “You’re swimming in madness.”

Will looks back to America, blinking disbelievingly. Like Matt, when she told him he was chock full of jhor, he shakes his head. “But I feel okay. Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks. How would I know for sure?”

“You’ll know in retrospect,” Gabrielle says, in a way that only an Archmage of Time would find helpful. She doesn’t say anything else, this is either a cabal discussion or a private one she’ll have with her son later.

The God of Time

This time, Daniel isn’t able to resist the allure of sleep. He’s one of the first to go after the rush of battle and ecstasy has passed. For some time, Will and Dylan stay awake talking quietly while the others slumber. His paradigm is suspiciously… loosey-goosey. On the other hand, his understanding seems to work along the lines of correspondence and communication, so perhaps he is an Adept.

Then Dylan falls asleep. Will is notoriously able to go for long periods—and they did bring caffeine on this leaf—but eventually he too passes out. Only Jessica must remain awake the duration, traveling through space.

Several of them awaken a few times, but with nothing to see, fall back asleep. Will is the last to fall asleep and the first to Awaken. He travels in silence with Jessica. As Saturn becomes a fingernail sized sphere in the sky, one-by-one the others come to.

They are still far from the planet when it dominates their viewpoint. “This is much larger than the Earth,” the Dreamspeaker observes. “We could spend lifetimes searching it. But I think my connection to her…” the Daughter of Mnemosyne takes them down, into the gas clouds.

The air on the leaf remains clear, and breathable. The terrain is terrifying to some, and wondrous to others. Without the Dreamspeaker’s magick, they would freeze, or suffocate. Even the mystics would eventually perish without a connection to Earth.

Soon they come across a platform, floating in the gas. It looks like an old-fashioned street corner, with a gas street lamp illuminating what is sometimes dark metal, sometimes stone. The scene flickers to steel, and modern glass and ceramics that would be suitable to a place like Dubai or Vegas before returning to cobblestone.

“There,” Jessica says. She pulls her leaf up. “I will be the last to go.” They talked about this some—if Jessica dies, they have no way home, and no way to survive Saturn without her. She will only enter the Shade Realm when and if the six of them have perished, because at that point it won’t matter. “The platform starts in our world. Past the light—” It becomes hazy there, “You’ll be in the Shade Realm.”

There is a jump in time, and all six are standing on the platform in a line, hand in hand. Will holds Dylan, who holds Ava, who holds Aaron, who holds Daniel, who holds Kouamé. Ava is the first to squeeze her companion’s hands. “Good luck.” Jessica tells them. “Don’t feel the need to go in together. Step forward past the light when you feel it’s safe to do so.”

A few steps in this world. Beyond the light… the violins start playing in Daniel’s head, a sad, mournful tune. Some of them will die today, that is for sure. Maybe him. Maybe in just a moment.

The sleep was much needed after the past few days of being cramped in cars and dealing with time anomaly after time anomaly. Perhaps it was the release of so much pent-up tension that allowed him to crash as hard as he did, sleeping deep and long into the last leg of the journey.

He comes to long after everyone else has, watching the never-ending darkness pass them by as Saturn starts to come closer and closer. He spends a lot of the time humming softly to himself, a mix of contemporary and classical music that seems to bleed together after a while.

When they draw close enough to Saturn that it is all they see, the humming fades out in favour of awe. “It’s huge…” He murmurs. He’s in the same state of awe as they descend into the gas clouds and toward the planet itself. “If this place wasn’t so dangerous, it would be fascinating to explore.” Too bad they have more important things to worry about.

He falls into a reserved silence once more until they are clasping hands on the platform. He, too, squeezes his companions hands. “Maybe we should go in pairs.” He offers. “I doubt any two steps will be the same between us all, considering every dimension is a dimension of time.” He lets out a deep breath. “Or we can go one-by-one. Either way, I can go first.”

Whatever decision they reach, when they finally begin to pass beyond the threshold of the lights, Daniel feels his heartbeat speed up. Some of them will die today, but he must find a way to make it as few as possible. Already, he attempts to use the song in his head as a point of focus so he can look ahead in time and plan for what lies before them.

“In pairs,” Will agrees, with a glance to his newly-Awakened father. Dylan can’t navigate this place on his own. With his free hand, he tweaks the output from his handheld, highlighting anything related to Time on the heads-up display.

He nods at Daniel as the Ecstatic offers to go first. It probably makes sense for the strongest Time mages to lead.

Daniel and Kouamé step off first. At first, nothing seems to happen to Kouamé. “Hmm.” He observes. “Human again. Still no Avatar.”

They move forward again, and Kouamé is beset by increasingly younger tides. He starts becoming more and more youthful in appearance, becoming a teenager.

Next is Ava and Aaron. The Ecstatics step forward. Ava is immediately catapulted to nearly 10,000 years in the future, while Aaron goes back 6500 years in the past. At least, those are their timelines relative to Saturn. Here inside the realm named for the god of time, they are together no matter what time they now belong to. Aaron ages gracefully into his mid-thirties, while Ava is just a couple of years beyond him. Both are balancing their steps pretty well.

All of the travelers find themselves in a grey world of mist and steely floor. Behind them, they can make out Jessica standing on the ‘boat,’ as well as the waiting Dylan and Will.

Dylan squeezes his son’s hand. They step forward.

Daniel can see it coming a mile away. Or a few steps away. Or a few hundred years away. He squeezes tight to Kouame’s hand as they go forward. “Human is a start.” He offers shakily. “Right?”

The violins grow louder with each forward step and the young time mage doesn’t age or deage as gracefully as his companions. “I’m not ready for this.” He whispers softly. “I thought I was, but I’m not.” Each step forward adds more years onto his life than a body could handle.. Soon he’s an old man, wispy grey hair covering his head and his back hunched forward.

As the orchestra of his soul takes over all senses, he keeps continuing forward toward his own death. “In my beginning is my end.” He recites in a croaking tone. He turns toward the ex-Technocrat, old eyes locking onto young. “Good luck. Please stop him.”

It’s the next step forward that does him in. His earthly body cannot handle the strain of the hundreds of years added onto it. His foot barely touches the floor before he collapses, lifeless.

When Daniel turns his gaze to see Kouamé, the Technocrat is a child. He could have withstood any amount of Time going forward, but not this. Soon he collapses too, unable to walk, but there’s no one to carry him when he no longer has the strength to support his head. The end is rapid as he descends back into a fetus, shrinking beyond sight.

Ava and Aaron share an alarmed look. Daniel’s name is on Aaron’s lips, but like a nightmare he can’t find any air to speak. They step forward.

Very little changes for Will as he steps forward. He gets a few inches shorter, as he reverts to a time before he ever tasted the vampire blood which caused an unnatural growth spurt, but he seems all right. He shoots a quick look at Dylan to be sure his father is as well, and then looks ahead again just in time to see Daniel and Kouamé fall. His stomach lurches, his eyes fixed on yet another dead member of his cabal. There is nothing they can do but move forward.

Dylan is younger than Will himself when he looks at his father—12, maybe 10. His clothing reverts to the style he wore at that time—a checkered red shirt tucked into blue pants. The boy’s face is filled with alarm at the changes—he has all the same memories as he did, the same understanding of his mission, but his reasoning and emotional capacity have been reduced with their journey, changes Will likely doesn’t notice in himself.

Ahead, Will and Dylan can see a white figure in the mist. Ava and Aaron too are spurred forward—both of them gain in years. A lot. They are white-haired, bent forward and shrunken with age. Perhaps if they were human they’d be dead—but a mage can expect to live beyond a century, even if they are long past the strength of their prime.

Will is eleven, so hardly much older. Between what he sees of his father, and what he witnesses ahead of them, he’s beginning to believe they made a mistake coming here. But there’s no guarantee they could survive by going back, and up ahead he can see what might be his mother. Taking a deep breath, he grips Dylan’s hand more tightly and steps forward.

Dylan’s hand is ever smaller. Soon he is an infant, and then he too is nothing at all. Now Will is 48, a man again in his own right.

At last Aaron crumples, unable to go on. “One last kiss?” He jokes to Ava. But he’s gone before she can respond. She steps forward, a youthful 20 once more. Ahead of them Gabrielle can be clearly seen, her arms outstretched, promising renewal. If Saturn is the God of Time, then she must be the Goddess. If they succeed, perhaps she can undo the damage that has been wrought.

Will holds tightly to his father until he can’t anymore, even lifting him into his arms to try to carry him along. Something snaps in his chest as he loses him, too. Silent tears roll down his cheeks as his father vanishes from existence, and he pauses for a moment to try to catch his breath. He sees Aaron drop, and feels the weight of a timeline he doesn’t remember, a friendship he can’t quite recall, slip through his fingers.

Scrubbing the heel of his hand over his cheeks, he pushes himself forward. Someone has to make it to Gabrielle. They have to make this count.

Another step, and Will is 3 years old. He knows his mission, at least as much as he can understand it, but he doesn’t have the capacity to carry it out in any logical way. His mind isn’t even developed enough to make total use of his eyes, or the time sense his equipment gives him. With his father gone, he runs toward his mother.

…And steps right into an area of extreme temporal distortion, reaching the ripe age of 97 in moments. Lucky, though, that it remains inside his lifespan. Will regains control of his emotions and actions, in time to see the scene play out behind him.

Kal has arrived. So far nothing in the world strained him, but he used all of his power to get here in time to stop them. He tries to advance, and Jessica puts her hand on his shoulder. He looks at her.

“I don’t have to kill you,” The Dreamspeaker says calmly. “Just buy time.”

Her voice rises, telling the story of the Dreamspeaker and the Batini at the edge of time and space. She retells the stolen stories of her compatriots, drawing on their power to achieve the ending she wants, and she does it all in seconds, the memories passing before her and Kal’s eyes. But the story doesn’t end with his gilgul. He brushes her aside, into the gas giant, and her body is gone before it can be pulled into the planet’s gravity well.

He wades carefully but quickly, because Will and Ava are far ahead of him. Will actually passed Ava when he ran as a child, so he reaches her first. He doesn’t even bother killing her, batting her out of the Shade Realm of Time so the old woman can die in the gas giant.

There’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing you can do. Will focuses on that thought to the point that it almost ceases to lose meaning, catching sight of Kal ending Jessica and then Ava in a glance back over his shoulder. He can’t save them. The only one who might be able to is waiting before him, as shining and beautiful as he remembers her in memories gone hazy over the better part of a century.

Heedless now that he’s so close, with death waiting just behind him, Will pushes himself forward as fast as his aged body will go, stretching his left arm out to reach his mother. His right hand grips his handheld like a lifeline, his thumb feeling for the slider for his personal firewall. He has no idea if or how Correspondence will work here, but he is doing what he can to shield his body from Kal.

It’s not enough. There’s nothing he can do to stop Kal from freezing him in place. He remains there, unmoving in time and space, as Kal picks his way into the safe zone.

“You had a good run. You almost made it.” The Archmage is out of breath like he just ran a marathon, bringing his hand to his chest as he walks around to stand between Will and Gabrielle, careful not to brush her statue with his clothing. Talking is easier than wiping Will out of existence. “But all things come to an end.” He moves on, around Will’s side, and stretches out a hand. “Like you.”

A figure appears in the space between them, a boy who, like Gabrielle, remains as youthful as he was before he died. Jahan. “No.”

The Archmage blinks. “Go away, little wraith. You’re not even a mage anymore, yet alone a Marauder.”

The once-Avenger stands firm, crossing his arms. “You’re right, I’m not a Marauder anymore. But there will always be a time in which I was one, just like there will always be a time you weren’t even an Archmage. And we’re in the Shade Realm of Time.” Now Will sees a shadow, an apparition around his friend, stretching thirty feet or more in the air. Part volcano, part mecha, part insect, part earth and flame, a green bubble and a sculpting wave. It is the blue glow of a monitor and and the crystalline perfection of a digital Avatar. The memory of his Marauderhood is always changing, and never holds fewer than several shapes at once.

Kal hesitate, but he won’t back down. “Unless you want to know True Death little ghost, you’ll get out of my way. Scamper through the cosmos with your dead Technocrats.”

Jahan smiles. “It’s true, you could end me. So what are you waiting for? Touch my thread,” the once-Marauder threatens. “Let’s see what all of that resonance does to you when you do.”

Kal doesn’t say anything else. He grimaces and turns, leaving the Shade Realm. Will is freed from his grip, and Jahan, after watching him go, turns to his friend. “Will.”

Now, a few steps away from his mother, Will can feel the frustrated scream build up inside him, trapped in his throat as Kal freezes him. They’ve given everything for this. His friends have died. His father has died. He doesn’t know how things are going back on Earth, but he’s been quietly mentally preparing to find much of his cabal and their allies dead, too. In all of this, with the typical arrogance of a Virtual Adept, his own death hadn’t factored into that matrix. Now he stares it in the face, with nothing but ice cold hatred in his eyes.

When Jahan appears, he experiences something almost like vertigo. This isn’t possible. He held his best friend in his arms as he died. Bits and pieces of their conversation are drowned out by the ringing in his ears, Will’s eyes following Kal’s movements as he threatens to end Jahan a second time.

And then he doesn’t.

Off-balance, he lurches forward the instant he’s free to move again, windmilling his arms to keep his feet. “How are you always there when I need you?” he asks quietly, turning to Jahan. He’s tearing up again and he’s not even next to the stupid pillar of salt. “I miss you every single day.”

“I’m your best friend,” Jahan says with a smile, so different from the one he gave Kal. “Always.” He holds out a hand, but even here he has no substance. Not matter anyway, only will. He lets it fall.

“I miss you too. It’s hard to keep going and know you’re still on Earth, and that I have to have new friends now.” He admits.

“You need to hurry before Kal finds a way around. Tell ”/characters/america-anders" class=“wiki-content-link”>America… tell America I understand." Is the best he can come up with. “You can take it from here. I have faith in you.” He starts to fade away, to leave Will all alone on Saturn.

“I’ll tell her,” Will promises. “And I’ll see you again, if not in this lifetime then in the next.”

And then he’s alone, facing Gabrielle’s likeness. Aaron and Daniel had said grief was the key, tears, which Will has in great supply now. Cautiously, he approaches her, aware now that Time no longer plays tricks with his body and his memories.

Ava, Aaron, and Daniel died to get them this far. If the Ecstatics hadn’t been along they may not have had the Time they needed to make it here. Jessica and Kouamé, allies he hardly knew, had given their lives to his mother’s cause long before Will was aware of it. Fresh tears spill down his cheeks at the thought of his father: newly Awakened, with only hours to experience reality anew before he blinked out of existence. If this doesn’t work, Will has no way back from here.

Will sinks to his knees in front of the statue. Too much has happened in the span of a year; to this day, he has never allowed himself to pause and reflect on it. Sid and Christine and Davey and most of all, Jahan. The fractured foundations of his cabal. Betrayal upon betrayal: Jerusha, Eleanor, Kate. Gavin. The blood bond.

It’s been a shitty fucking twelve months. Will’s chest heaves as he sobs over the salt, willing literally any of that to have been worth it.

There is a wind, that picks up in the distance and then carries over his sobbing body. Will feels his mother’s arms close over him as he embraces one of the Nine Ecstatic Sacred Passions. His skin grows firm and youthful as his body returns to his teenage years, his vision growing dark as if he were falling asleep. He feels himself carried, accelerating.

And then he wakes up.

The Restless Dead

The parties staying in Davenport are the last to be ready. For all intents and purposes, they are two teams whose missions have little to do with one another beyond occupying the same space.

Matt takes the time to explain the kind of magick they will be working, magick he never taught Sonia before because there was no need: Kalananda, what other Traditions might call necromancy. Kalananda can be divided into three very rough categories: necromancy, communication with the dead; necrourgy, mastery of the dead through binding, warding, and compulsion; and necrosynthesis, bridging the divide between death and life. The Agama, the little death that all three of them experienced, is a form of necrosynthesis—a living being’s journey into the underworld. Outside of performing the Agama Matt’s experience of the Spirit sphere, Cit or Consciousness, is a bit limited—but not his knowledge.

Dance, asceticism, and purification are common means of accessing Cit—they will begin the ritual with two. Sonia and Xifeng are asked to take a ritual bath to purify themselves in the hot tub (Matt uses the chantry’s only bathtub) and they will be doing the ritual hungry, however nice it would be to fortify their bodies before such an endeavor. Sonia has trained by fasting before, and Matt and Xifeng have both had to utilize that focus as much out of necessity in a post-apocalyptic world as any particular training.

Once they are clean and calm, Matt takes them to the graveyard. Each of them is dressed just a little insufficiently for the cold—not enough to endanger them in a multi-hour ritual, but enough of them to be aware of the cold, and uncomfortable.

“”/wikis/chakravanti" class=“wiki-page-link”> Chakravanti have the power to break the walls separating life and death—from either direction. We do so by seizing the authority of the lords of death, but even we have rules we must follow. We can take on the mantle of a god or act in defiance of their authority, but eventually we’ll pay the price for our hubris." Matt hasn’t had to explain this since it was explained to him. He tries to remember how Cécile put it.

“We have guidelines, passed down orally. You may pass them down a little differently, come time. But the core of them is the same. Respect those who walk alone in the underworld. Anything you encounter there, or that we speak to from across the veil, is a force to be reckoned with. Never assume that something is merely a ghost and you will hold power over it. By the same token, your own solitude must be respected. Ghosts and wraiths have powerful drives and you must remain aloof to them, whatever your sympathies.”

“Necessity is never defied twice. Remember the story of Orpheus? He may have been allowed to enter the underworld and leave it alive, with his wife, but that bargain will never be offered twice. Take the first reasonable offer when you bargain with spirits, even if it pains you. Accept that divine power comes at a price. What we do tonight, we do out of need, but we will pay for it all the same.”

“For the dead, matter and spirit are one. The spirit of this world is matter to them. Second, what is matter in this world, objects of great personal emotional resonance, may bind or imprison a spirit: destroy these objects when you can to release them. Should you ever travel to the underworld, all the matter there is either the landscape itself—ancient in its own right—places or things of great emotional significance, or spirit turned matter. I don’t expect this to be relevant to our ritual, but I want you prepared anyway.”

“Fourth. Even the brightest siddha is a dark mirror for the dead. It is easy—very easy—to cast Entropy into the spirit world, or upon a wraith. Doing so corrupts them, brings them closer to their own self-destruction and the destruction of those around them. Avoid the temptation.”

“Lastly, live in dead flesh. The living are a beacon to the hungry dead; we would do well to mask our nature from them. More abstractly, remember that the soul is eternal and unconquerable.” Unless Kal destroys it. “These bodies are only a shell. Don’t forget that.”

While the Chakravanti plan their ritual, Ursula, Sapphira, America, and Alethia plan their defense. The Iterator refused to journey to Saturn, instead choosing to focus her energy on Earth, and defending this ritual.

The Technocrats are the most obvious defenders. The old amalgams who used to chase the Avengers and Children of Vision around are here:
Charlotte Bailey, Void Engineer, Xifeng’s friend, and the amalgams’ new field leader.
Russ Jones, Man in Black and last surviving member of the original AT-12 amalgam.
Siera Love, Void Engineer and Neutralization Corps Specialist.
Lacey Norton, Void Engineer and Unenlightened Marine.
Thomas Way, Void Engineer from Q Division.
Trista Hanford, former Dreamspeaker turned Void Engineer convert.
Keisha Morrison, Void Engineer and psychiatrist. Not normally a combatant, but out in force tonight.
Zahir al-Shahrani, Syndicate. Not a combatant either, but he doesn’t have much choice.

Another forty Technocrats are present, most Unenlightened but armed. As America has said before, now is the time to draw Kal out. He definitely reacted to them messing with the Starlight Passage and Davenport, they have ever reason to believe he will react to necrourgy cast on Gabrielle‘s body. Alex’s ritual to purify the weather will be larger and more powerful—but they have to hope Kal either won’t object to it, or all of these targets will be too audacious for him to pass up.

Next are the vampires. Alethia, and some of the others, can simply hide in the earth. She wanted to simply remove all the corpses and replace them with vampires, but even John thought that was a bad idea, and Matt didn’t want to deal with all that angry dead energy. Still, they have places to lay in wait, some with the assistance of the Verbena. They are fewest in number—Alethia and the Prince brought 25 vampires with them, whereas Sapphira brought 9. But they are versatile in their power and ready to make legends tonight. For now is Ostara, the Vernal Equinox: the juncture of time the Verbena associate with Life, their Sphere of power. Sapphira and the others will be on their game this morning.

While Ursula commands the largest force, she is not and has never been a field commander. Sapphira is clever and has ideas to bring to the table, but she makes an open show of deferring to America’s judgment. Alethia, too, follows suit, and so eventually Ursula agrees to bend to America’s battle plans.

One vampire is exempted from the battle: Jacob. Matt at first seems to find the vampire annoying, but when he connects how useful a natural medium will be, he allows him to stay with them. He can help them communicate more safely, and warn them if they attract something. He does leave Sonia to babysit the Ravnos, though, whenever he starts talking.

The first bit of magick they actually perform, once they are prepared, is to smear their skin with human ashes and sprinkle grave dirt on themselves. Unfortunately, while they don’t need to smear their entire skin, it does require opening their coats and at least rubbing their faces and arms and necks. It has a pretty immediate effect on Jacob, who mentions to Xifeng they no longer “look tasty.” It will also deflect the attention of any restless dead present or whom they uncover.

The last preparation is to circle Gabrielle’s gravestone with salt. Matt has Sonia and Xifeng each create a larger concentric circle—one should be sufficient, but he can think of all kinds of reasons why they may need additional barriers in an hour. Sonia creates the mid-sized ring, leaving Xifeng to circle the whole gravesite with her salt (and, perhaps, have awkward eye contact with her former subordinates).

For Xifeng, newly Awakened, this feels like a lot. A lot a lot. But she was a good soldier before, and her tendency to just roll up her sleeves and push as hard as she can has served her well in her new life. When she asks Matt questions about the steps of the ritual, it is only out of desire to deepen her own understanding, but otherwise she follows his directions unerringly.

At least she’s beyond feeling weirded out by human ashes. You gain a certain perspective, having died. Xifeng avoids interacting with the Technocrats as much as possible while she, Matt, and Sonia are plastering dirt and ashes all over their skin. She seems to approach the whole thing kind of like slapping sunscreen on at the beach. Anyone need help getting the back of their neck?

Accepting her share of the salt, Xifeng moves out to the designated distance and slowly circles the site backwards, pouring out an unbroken circle. She tries to stay focused on that, ignoring the long stares from her old colleagues, especially those she wasn’t particularly close to. If she can catch Charlotte’s eye she shoots her old friend an uncertain smile. It’s sobering to see that only she, Russ, and Zahir are still here from her original Cincinnati team of ten.

Who would have thought a 17 year old girl from Davenport would be leading a multi-faction force. But that’s the situation America Anders found herself in. She checks in at first to make sure the ritual is working, and then steps to each group, discussing the plan. “We want Kal’s eyes on us,” she explains. “We want him and his minions focused on us, and pissed. If they are here they can’t be screwing things up for the others.”

America’s plan is to distract, aggravate, and contain the arch mage. The group is advised to do anything to slow them down, all counter magick is to be keyed to the resonances she and Fritha provide. The idea is to enrage them, keep them off balance, and when America addresses Ursula, thanking her for the NASA rescue and apologizing for Kouamé, she explains that they want to use Kal’s strength against him. Turn it on himself so he is fighting his own power instead of us trying to meet him on his level. The paradox they have brazenly acquired should be amplified, and if possible all paradox from everyone here should be directed into Kal. She also explains that we should help make fighting him easier by reversing his arcane, lighting him up like a Christmas tree so everyone is aware of where he is.

Matt has taken every preparation he can think of for the dangerous magick they are about to perform—and the dangerous being they’re trying to attract the attention of. It’s time to open the casket they’ve unearthed. Moving the lid is a 2-person job so he makes Xifeng help him, Sonia cashing in on the benefits of being a graduated mage. With his student’s help, he heaves the lid.

Sonia gasps.

Matt jerks his head back to the casket so fast the lid nearly crushes Xifeng’s fingers. “Her body,” Sonia begins, illustrating the obvious. “The Entropy isn’t touching it.”

This is not the body of a woman who’s been dead 11 years, or even 11 weeks. She looks nearly as beautiful as Xifeng has seen her in person. Her skin has lost some of its luster, and her nose has sunken a little bit as the cartilage starts to decay. That’s it, at least that Xifeng can tell at a casual glance. This body has barely begun the process of decay.

“Incorruptibility.” Matt says suddenly. His former student looks at him. “Esoteric Catholics believe that saints, if they are pure enough, will be untouched by decay after death. The idea is present in some obscure Buddhist and Hindu places as well. But I thought it was a myth.” At least 95% of the job they were ready to do won’t need to be done.

Unaware of this religious drama, America has been going 100 mph with no sense of slowing down soon. There are a lot of things to coordinate, with a lot of people who are going to die this morning.

Suddenly a sense of deja vu comes over her. She is somewhere else, living a memory that never happened. Unarmed and unarmored, Johann moves forward to embrace her placing a hand on each of her shoulders. His breast rests against her breast, his ear against her lips. Heart to heart, a secret to be told.

“They’re coming.”

The memory that never happened fades, leaving America with the knowledge of what is to come to pass.

“Hey-” Xifeng struggles with the weight of the lid on her own before just yanking her hands away. She peers over the edge, confirming for herself what Sonia has said. “Whoa.” She gives Matt a funny look, quipping, “After everything you’ve seen and done there are things you think are only myths? Really.”

Through her helmet, America gasps. Then, she dials up the speaker and her voice echoes out, crisp and clear," It’s on! Everybody, watch each other’s backs!"

Matt gives Xifeng a sour look. “There were a lot of things that died when the Technocracy—” He doesn’t get to finish that sentence. Death rains down from the grey sky, cutting down three Technocrats in a hail of bullets, including Zahir. Three others are wounded, as well as two Verbena.

“Drones,” Ursula says over the comm. Their Iterators blocked some of that attack or it would have been much, much worse. “Take them out, boys and girls.”

Next, a web of forces cuts through the air, and anything else that happens to be in the way, breaking the battlefield into a dozen or more smaller arenas. Jacob, Sonia, Matt, and Xifeng are cut off from the others. Sapphira, by her daughter, narrowly avoids losing a limb as the translucent, barely-visible barrier cuts across the air in front of them. Siera screams as half her foot and one of her knuckles is severed on her right side. She does better than some of the others. Some Technocrats scream as their arms are severed. One woman loses her legs and some of her hips. Still others say nothing as their heads are cut from their bodies—the barriers seem deliberately designed to cut through groups of people as much as to contain them.

Five Technocrats are killed instantly, another 8 (plus Siera) wounded to some degree. Only one vampire is outright killed, another four wounded, even if some of them greviously. All of the Verbena manage to get out of the way in time.

The barriers have three effects—first, they prevent forces and matter from passing through them—be it bullets, or energy blasts, or bodies. Second, they prevent magick from being cast through them. Third, they inhibit teleportation.

Ursula tests this, aiming her exoskeleton at the barrier and hitting it full blast with her Mastery of Forces. It wilts some under the attack. By America and Sapphira, Charlotte and the two Technocrats also begin trying various techniques—Forces, Prime, Correspondence counter-science—to break down the barrier containing them.

Kate teleports directly into the prison containing Jacob and the Chakravanti, radiant in her own power. She punches to the side, striking Sonia and sending her crashing to the floor with a the crack of a rib. Kate isn’t a physical combatant, but her spatial awareness is so high she can easily land a Forces-enhanced punch when she wants to. Ignoring Xifeng and Jacob, she smiles at Matt. “Necromancy reeks of desperation, even for you.”

“Kate!” the daughter of Ether screams through her helmet, as loud as possible through the barrier. She turns her attention away from the turncoat Virtual Adept and aims her palm up toward the point where Ursula’s forces bombardment, joining her, with a focused rainbow of prime that crisps through the air, attempting to exacerbate it. “Focus everything on this point!” she yells, “make this thing leech their energy, draw it all in so they’ve got nothing left!”

Ursula and America’s sections are adjoining; they are also close to the Chakravanti. As the Iterator and the Etherite join their attacks, Sapphira casts her hands toward the barrier, alight with an eldritch glow. Charlotte and the Iterators join as well.

The barrier buckles.

At least, one sidewall does, merging several groups. Nodding to the Iron Maiden, Ursula turns to target the next-most logical barrier, the one separating America and herself from Kate and the Chakravanti.

Alethia drops into the earth.

Drones fall from the sky, jammed by Technocrats. One of the compartments begins to fill with poison gas. New screams fill the air.

Matt casts a handful of salt at Kate, trying to banish her. They are standing in the middle of the second circle (the first contains only Gabrielle, the third the whole graveyard).

Xifeng knows better than to fire a bullet at the person who taught Will how to manipulate matter and space. There are others here better equipped to confront Kate than she is. Though her gun is in hand, she looks away at the efforts to take down the barrier. She tries to offer what help she can, humming a soft tune in discord with the sound of the forcefield, even if it’s no doubt a drop in the bucket compared to America and Ursula’s combined power.

The salt falls to either side of Kate. She frowns at Matt.

Abruptly, she glances over at Jacob. “Haven’t you learned anything about magick since violating ”/characters/will-harrison" class=“wiki-content-link”>Will?" The Ravnos staggers back behind Xifeng, eyes wide. “Static disciplines can’t do anything against the source of the power I’m wielding.” Jacob runs his hand through the air, hitting Xifeng before looking back at it. With his own illusions reflected back on him, he’s tripping balls.

All things considered, it’s a kinder option than the others. Some of the Technocrats have begun fighting each other, affected by the mind-altering gas inside their partitions. The corrosive gas was just the most obvious.

“There’s something in the air,” Sapphira says suddenly. “Nanites,” One of the two Technocrats with Charlotte says. “We’re breathing them in.” Sapphira pulls off her attack—Ursula and America are the powerhouses here—and turns her powers inward. They really need those to not activate.

With Xifeng’s contribution, Ursula and America drop the barrier, allowing them access to Kate.

As soon as the barrier drops and her Prime detector pings confirmation of its evaporation, America Anders hits the juice boost in her suit and vaults herself forward toward her nemesis with rocket jets from her armor’s shoulder blade portions. Raising her left arm, a small ray gun raises from her forearm. Taking aim at the Kate’s tech-clad forearm, America unleashes a pulse with a loud THRUMMM, a metaphysical etheric pulse keyed to Kate’s resonance and designed to interrupt and exasperrate her magical efforts.

As the distance quickly vanishes between the armoured Etherite and her quarry, she raises her right arm, twisting the wrist to deliver a flash grenade into her hand. She cooks it and launches it at the same target with the aided energy of her pneumatic power of her armour. The flash grenade is one of her rarely used corrosive flashes, designed to eat away quickly at materials. The last time she used such a weapon was to take down a wall keeping her from her previous quarry, Jahan in the Old Man’s house before it all went to shit.

What’s that line, no plan survives contact with the enemy? America’s plan is flawless, a perfect counter to Kate’s resonance.

And it just isn’t enough.

This time, it’s Ursula who follows America’s lead, keying in to target Kate’s specific resonance.

One of the Technocrats with Charlotte crumples to the ground. “It’s attacking our organs,” Sapphira says, strained. Blood runs down out her nose. “Go on. We’ve got you and America covered.”

/I know what you’re thinking, Matt./ The thought drops into Matt and Xifeng’s mind like the pop of an IM bubble. /I’ve been reading your mind for a while now. But I don’t need to cross the barrier yet. I just need to kill you./

America’s throw is perfect. Like an Olympian. But Kate is the one who taught Will to manipulate matter and space. The corrosive follows a straight line through curved space, sailing around Kate on a collision with Xifeng’s face.

Xifeng hits the dirt.

America’s throw is perfect. There’s no way that Xifeng is going to get out of the way in time.

“No!” Matt steps into the way, knife at the ready. He’s fast—fast enough to deflect the grenade away from them. Not completely harmlessly—it begins to open on impact with the knife, splattering his hand, arm, and the side of his jaw with corrosive acid. But it’s not nearly as bad as it could be. There’s a half second delay as Matt realizes his skin is burning, and then he screams.

“Kate?” Sonia gets to her feet, clutching her side. “You’re an asshole.” Kate glances at her as the katar leaves her fingers, the weapon Matt gave her.

Kate’s eyes widen. She already has the app open, and tries to repeat her earlier action, to send the katar into Xifeng’s head on a straight line through curved space. But the blade is drawn by her heavy karma, simply bending and turning through space to reach her.

America, Xifeng, and even Matt gave never seen a Virtual Adept type that fast before, and they likely never will again. Kate tries it over and over, but no matter how she distorts space it follows her, gaining momentum.

Kate tries to teleport. That’s when Alethia’s arms burst from the earth and grab her calves. The True Brujah times out perfectly, knocking her forward and making her fingers lose their place on her forearm.

The katar plants itself perfectly in her chest, through her heart. She’s dead instantly.

Almost no one really sees what happens next, as Kal comes into the field. There’s no reason America should, after all. Matt’s Arcane jas defeated her perception before, and Kal is far beyond Matt.

But America was born to defeat Kal, to preserve the Tellurian.

So she sees him sort of coalesce behind Sonia, taking her head on his hands and twisting it with a grimace of anger. He’s by Kate’s side before Sonia’s body even hits the ground, kneeling like a mourner. “She was my strongest Avatar,” He says sadly, taking the blade out of her chest and sending it away from meddling Euthanatoi.

Matt, Xifeng, Ursula, and even Charlotte had trouble seeing the assassination (they certainly saw Sonia fall) but they see him now, kneeling by Kate’s body without a care that he’s in the middle of a battlefield, his back to America and Ursula.

America kneels down beside Sonia, trying to check her vitals.

Xifeng hears Matt shout, and the metallic clink of the grenade impacting his knife. She starts to look up, but then ducks and rolls away instead to get clear of the splatter.

She’s pushing herself onto her hands and knees as both Kate and Sonia fall, everything happening too quickly for her to follow. Her mentor’s scream rings in her ears. Even if Kal doesn’t have his back to her, she for one clicks her X-5 over to incendiary ammo and takes a shot from where she kneels in the mud. She utters a simple mantra as she does it – not to improve her own shot, but to increase the chance that the Archmage will continue to ignore America and Ursula. They’re the ones who need a bit of luck.

Sonia is gone.

The ground buckles and cracks under Kate, shoving Alethia back under the earth. The barriers fall now, and the screams from the battlefield start to die off.

Xifeng feels, perhaps for the first time, her mind crash into the unforgiving service of the Consensus. She knows, just knows, it’s going to explode into Paradox.

And then it doesn’t. It just hangs over her head, like an invisible weight dragging down on her spirit.

But her shot is true. Even as Matt screams Sonia’s name, her incendiary hits Kal and explodes in fire. The Archmage looks annoyed, pointedly not acknowledging Xifeng as the fire dies around him. He stands, gently laying Kate down as he dusts himself off, pointedly not looking at the others.

Then Matt launches himself at the Archmage, with a sound that starts too low for humans to hear and rises to a deep groan. He’s no longer beautiful. He’s taken the magick of the ritual and repurposed it, the magick that blends life and death, and made himself neither. Alive enough to retain the spark that lets him use magick, but dead enough he’s almost impossible to kill. He comes at the Archmage with hand and knife, and the Batini moves head and shoulders, evading the Chakravanti’s attacks. He has, at least, drawn Kal’s attention.

There are other Kals, America realizes, scattered across the graveyard. Impossibly, each one seems to be using different magick, as if they were not one mage colocating but a whole cohort.

Some of the Kals are wielding weapons, moving between Technocrats and Traditionalists and vampires. Killing someone with a blade may not qualify as subtle—but it is easy, fast, and requires no particular magick. Perhaps not suprisingly, he skips over all the Unawakened Technocrats and many of the others who are weak, like Xifeng.

Though there is only one of him, he manages to dance around Matt and America, engaged with him in combat. The latter draws his attention—he strikes her and sends her flying across the graveyard, as if killing the Adept is more acknowledgment than he wants to give her. That leaves Matt… until Ursula strikes him in the back with a full-powered weapon beam, causing his muscles to involuntarily arch back, his skin smoldering.

He looks at the traitor with a glare of utter certainty: She is going to die.

The Technocrat is unaffected by his death glare. “Hey, Matt! You have ONE job!” She points back toward Gabrielle’s casket. There is some hesitation in his face as she tries to communicate with him, but he advances on her anyway.

“I can’t believe you graduated medical school,” Ursula mutters under her breath. “We don’t need you to fight, you need to—aw, hell.” She shoots him again as the necrosynthetic mage approaches her. “Lin! You talk to him!” She calls to Xifeng.

Xifeng isn’t standing helpless while all of this is going on, although she’s not really sure what to do. She sticks close to Gabrielle’s casket, trying to keep a clear circle around it in case the ritual is even a little bit salvageable at this point. As for Matt, she’s keeping an eye on him, uncertain whether she ought to pull him away from the fight until Ursula gets involved.

She takes a moment, digging a hand into her pockets to find a rubber bullet and feeding it into her revolver. “Matt, come here!” Xifeng calls out, firing at him to draw his attention. “You can’t just drown me in a damned fountain and abandon me. I need you! We have work to do.”

Matt pauses in his attack, for a moment looking like he wants to shoot the source of the rubber bullet. He turns toward Xifeng before he recognizes her. His brain works slow in this form—he mulls over her words while Ursula keeps her distance, letting the Chakravanti do her work.

This has gone really, really badly. The thought occurs to both Sapphira and Ursula. People are dying faster than Sapphira can heal or protect. “If we are to be cannon fodder,” Ursula murmurs. “Then we will draw this out.” The Iterator sends the full force of her weaponry against Kal—even as an Archmage, that power is formidable.

He closes the space between her, deactivating her equipment and grabbing her by the throat. Even though in this form she towers over him, somehow, her feet dangle above the ground as he lifts her. “Help!” She gurgles. “Somebody help me!”

America answers the call, launching forward into the air and crashing into the Archmage, causing him to drop his quarry. Thrown over her shoulder as they fly, he plants his foot on stable earth, causing America to overbalance and crash into the ground as she’s suddenly pushing at an immovable object. The Archmage looms over her.

A sudden rumble of thunder pierces the sky.

Kal looks up as it begins to rain—not snow, but black rain carrying down the sediment from the atmosphere. The Kals coalesce into one figure as he lets the water fall and drape his clothes to his body, the act of falling water more interesting to him than a battlefield of people who want to kill him. “He did it,” Kal says quietly. “Tecumseh fixed the weather.”

Facing Xifeng, Matt lets the decay fall away from his body like water. He’s just Matt now. “I’m sorry,” He tells her. Most of Xifeng’s old cabal is hurt, badly. Thomas Way is dead now. Sapphira is crumped on the ground, holding her midsection. There’s not a lot of movement anymore.

Ursula, America, Alethia, and John are still standing. Like one mind, they attack together, hoping to overwhelm the Archmage. Alethia comes forward out of the wet earth, twisting time as she strikes at the Batini’s body with her fists. America keys into his particular resonance, trying to incapacitate or at least handicap his magick. John Taylor joins her, using all his powers of Thaumaturgy to hinder the mage’s ability to perform. Ursula uses her mighty command of Forces to bring down lightning down from the sky into his body, over and over and over again.

Kal explodes under the force of their combined power, blood and meat going everywhere.

There’s silence, and then a cheer across the broken bodies of the battlefield as the gathered champions realize the Archmage is dead.

It comes as quite a surprise, then, when Kal shoves a long wooden stake at an angle to pierce both Alethia and John’s hearts. He pushes them over and they fall on top of each other, paralyzed and helpless. Ursula screams as her exoskeleton explodes in flames, burning her.

And last there is America. They are standing apart, but America feels one of Kal’s hands on her heart, and another on her mind. He roots through it as he stands poise to crush her. “I want you to know I think you took an admirable last stand. It was beautiful watching you struggle, like a butterfly caught in the arms of a spider.” Shooting pain grips her chest as he puts pressure on it with his empty hand. “But it was all for—” Kal hits her immediate memories. And suddenly he knows, and she knows he knows, that the rest of her cabal went to Saturn to free Gabrielle, while Alex and Fríða made a trap that can hold him. Actual fear washes over his features.

There’s a lot going on, but as Matt rounds on Xifeng her vision narrows only to him. She swallows, watching him approach without moving from her place at the centre of the ritual. This is where they need to be, right now.

Relief washes over her face as he comes back to herself, and she holds out her free hand to him. “Let’s finish the ritual.”

Things are going to shit over there; she can hear the screams as Kal continues to murder the majority of her allies. But the two of them have a task which must be completed.

America laughs, choking and spitting blood on the look of fear. “Who’s the butterfly and who’s the spider, Kal?”

She rolls her head back best as she can smiling at the black rain. “We did it. We fixed what you all ruined. The healing can begin,” she says with a winced smile.

“Oh, you afraid of Mrs. Harrison?” She asks, returning her gaze to call, twisted in a sinister grin as she cries. “Me too.”

“I’m afraid that if you can’t even figure out our plan how are you going to stop her from looping?”

America pulls herself closer to him as her strength fades, she whispers hoarsely, throwing a metal cage to deploy behind her, atop her paralyzed lover. "I exist to stop the loops. Your fucking cabal of screw ups set us on this cycle. Matt, Gabrielle, YOU. You are the problem, I’m the solution. When she kills you, she loops. If you somehow kill her, you’re still here. You can’t. You don’t belong here. You’re part of the problem. "

She gasps, trembling. “You fucking failure. The Tellurian is very unhappy with you. You, Gabrielle. You have to die. You’re the last remnants.”

America’s eyes roll back and she smiles, tears streaming down her face. "You have to die. You can’t kill her. Let me. "

For one terrible moment, Kal considers what she has to offer. He seizes her heart, and he could stop it, oh he could stop it right now. “You won’t have to,” He tells her.

But he lets her live, releasing her heart and mind. If he fails… stepping sideways, the Archmage flees to Saturn.

“Yes. That is what I came here to do,” Matt says, taking his student’s hand. It will be harder, without Sonia. But their task is almost done. He raises their power.

A Perfect Storm

While Alex‘s party doesn’t rush out of the chantry as fast as the group going to Jupiter, he wastes very little time doing so, leaving while the Euthanatos are still bathing for their ritual.

Alex, Karasi, and Fríða arrive at St Louis chantry at the same time as many other Hermetics—in consultation with other chantry leaders, Alex has selected his team, but there is plenty of work for other members of the Order. Some are bending space to bring the ritual participants here, to St Louis. Others are restoring earthquake damage to the structure, or bringing the leys into alignment. Just the act of so much Hermetic magick in a place where the Dominant paradigm has been weakened has shifted the chantry into a Sanctum—all Hermetic magick is coincidental here.

They will need that, and any other edge they can get. Linda and the other Adepts are still spreading word across the Web and internet.

It’s dawn when Alex begins, which gives them a couple of hours to get the ritual in full swing before the awareness of Sleepers and mages starts flooding the ritual with power. There are eleven participating in the circle. Five represent the earthly elements, Earth Air Fire Water and Spirit. Six represent the celestial influences, like Venus, Mars, and Saturn, with Fríða standing for Luna, Karasi for Mercury, and finally Alex for Jupiter.

The pomp and circumstance make little difference for Karasi, who spends the time whirling herself into a frenzy, eyes dilated and unfocused, breath heavy, with a light sheen of sweat on her features. But this behavior suits Mercury, and Correspondence, and she’s more than willing to stand where the Hermetics need her. Fríða understands the ritual a bit more—Luna rules Prime, and it’s an easy connection for her to make.

First they purify the temple with banishing energies, and then purify and consecrate themselves. Every word, every gesture has a purpose, building power and buffers to protect and channel the power they expect. They invoke the power of Jove, the power of the storm, and across St Louis it begins to rain.

It’s a start, but not enough. They need to tap into the Net itself. Here in Missouri they are not far from New Madrid, the focus point of the Net into the physical world the last time.

This time, it will be here.

Only Alex and Karasi can authorize access to the Net, though they can extend that access to a circle they lead and direct the energies of. That means Alex is the only one who can control the circle and the energies it wields. He’s probably not surprised at all to see his Avatar, beaming in front of him as he prepares to merge his power with its own. “This is the moment you were born for,” She speaks to him in English, but it doesn’t break the mood of the Latin chanting around him. It is, after all, all in his head. “Are you ready?”

Alex’s entire experience back at St. Louis until this point has been a surreal one. It’s difficult for him to wrap his head around the idea of more experienced Hermetics deferring to a novice like him, yet here they are, working in unison at his direction. “I am ready,” he states with confidence. He knows that this is going to work. He’s confident that the Net is going to help him fix the world. He just hopes that this geas he shares with Will and Karasi can prevent him from breaking it again. “Let’s open the gate.”

It comes so easily now, with him guiding and directing the ritual. After doing it so many times subconsciously (and, looking back, perhaps even before he used it to crash Chili’s to the ground) it comes readily when he does it under his own power.

This is the easy part; he’s accessed the Network on his own before. They’ve done just about everything they can before the rush of power hits—save those preparations Fríða needs to make.

The Master frowns. “Something is wrong. The energies we have are not… pure.”

“I would imagine they were not,” Speaks the man standing in the place of Saturn. His face changes as their attention is drawn to him: His lips elongate, becoming ribbed or segmented. His irises become a brilliant, patterned orange with a faintly yellow sclera behind. His skin doughy, his features more pointed even as folds of flesh hang off him. “Obviously a ritual of such significance would attract the attention of the Nephandi.”

The Hermetic in the position of Mars moves—it’s not like any of them are helpless—and Fríða stops her. “No! You can’t simply kill it while it’s connected. We need to remove it first.”

“I have no such compulsions,” The creature says, drawing a knife. Suddenly Karasi is there, grabbing its wrist and preventing it from slashing down on the Hermetic. The dervish struggles with the interloper.

Suddenly the knife is gone. “Are you a Nephandus?” Fríða says, sizing it up. She may sound calm, but the elder Chorister can do a lot with just her words.

It shakes its head. “Heavens no. I’m an infernal being. You won’t find it as easy to dismiss me from the circle now that you’ve invited me in.” He glances at Alex. “I’ll make a deal with you in exchange for my willing exit from the circle.”

Alex is struck with anger at this creature putting his task in jeopardy. He considers using some of the precious energy from the Net to guide a stray lightning bolt into the creature, or cause just a slight tremor to loosen the stonework above it. Surely killing this creature that is clearly an offense to the Tellurian wouldn’t cause him to accrue more jhor. He almost does, until Fríða speaks her warning. He can’t allow anything to stop this ritual.

“Speak.” As much to give the circle and any external mages a chance to act, as to consider the offer, Alex will listen. At the same time, he addresses Karasi’s mind. If we lower the gauntlet, can you push it through?

Several of the Hermetics try to act, three of them in fact, directing ice, shockwave, and Prime at him. But the energies, no matter the specific nature, only swirl around him. Fríða watches the Hermetic attempt with Prime with interest.

“I just want you to agree to take on a little more jhor. That’s all. I’ll leave and won’t attempt to access the Network through any of you again—Yorick can even put a geas on me." A Master of Entropy can make oaths binding.

He grins at Alex. “Kind of funny I picked Saturn. Just like the planet your friends went to. Tried. I’m afraid we intercepted them at Jupiter.”

Yorick licks his lips. “That part is true. I don’t think he knows if he’s telling the truth about leaving the Net alone or not, but Jupiter is true.”

Gladly. Karasi replies.

Alex grins. “You won’t attempt to access the Net through any of /us/? Sounds like a loop hole I’m not interested in.” It would be easy enough to accrue more jhor. It might even be enjoyable, and the knowledge that his friends I have been attack certainly makes it more tempting, but he has to fix what he broke first.

He begins a plea in Latin, an invitation to any other Spirit mage in the circle to join in, beckoning Charon to come to the shores of his world, to help guide a lost soul home.

The creature’s smile falters a little. “We can negotiate something more to your liking. Or I can just kill your circle.” The direct attempts to leverage power against him aren’t working; the air hums with the residue of spent magick. At his threat, Fríða hardens the force of Consensus around him.

There is a lot of power in this circle already. The room grows dark, and the gentle lapping of a boat against the water can be heard. Alex can’t see the river—not without altering his eyes with Forces or Spirit—but he can hear it. He certainly recognizes it.

“I’m not going alone!” He may be struggling to use magick directly, but he grabs the Hermetic standing in the place of Mars. Alex hears a choking gurgle coming from her. Ren alights from the ceiling, where he has been passively supporting Alex’s power, striking at the creature’s head, ripping out chunks of hair as he struggles to reach his eyes. In the dimness Alex can barely see the shapes—the creature grabbing Mars, the blur from the air, the struggle.

Just a moment more, Karasi says to Alex’s mind.

Alex remains undeterred by the creature’s attack on Mars. Did it think he’d feel sympathy for her? Concern? He maintains his effect, listening with some longing to the sounds of the river that twice embraced him, and twice rejected him. He answers the creature with a soft laugh. “The Order does not negotiate with your kind. May you travel farther on the Styx than I.”

The creature manages to pin Alex’s raven, for a moment caught between Ren and Mars. It hesitates, really looking at Alex for the first time in the darkness.

As the boatman takes his hand, and Karasi gives him a push, there’s a smile on his lips as he passes through the Veil.

Both Mars and Ren travel with him, entangled, but Ren finds his way back to Alex’s side a moment later, like he always Will. Mars, though, is a sacrifice.

As the darkness clears the room, Hermetics burst through the now-unlocked doors. Fríða wastes no time. “We need Saturn and Mars’ backups in the circle, now. We have three minutes till the Equinox.” The Hermetics look at each other uncertainty—as far as they can tell two members of this circle just /disappeared/—but both men obediently take their places.

Two minutes now until people across the continent, across the earth, pour their power into Alex’s ritual.

Alex doesn’t spare a thought for Mars. She knew there were risks involved, and right now, only the Net matters. He continues with the ritual, slightly annoyed at how much time it’s taking for Saturn and Mars to take up their mantles and play their parts, even if it’s only a few seconds.

It takes at least two minutes for the men to get in their places—ages, when Fríða gave them only three. As soon as the men join the circle, the power is already waiting. A working of this magnitude… some people are already keying into that energy.

Then the clock strikes 8:41. Fríða opens her mouth—like Alex and Karasi, she has perfect timing—but there’s really no need. Those Hermetics who don’t have a sense of time are soon hit by the immense rush of power.

All around the continent, all around the world, people begin focusing on the same thought: powering the Net. Clearing the atmosphere. Rain. Once, Will told Christine about the Dream of a Thousand Cats. It only takes a thousand, so the story goes.

This is way more than a thousand. Virtual Adepts the world over. Sleepers across the internet. Circles of Verbena and Hermetics. The few surviving Ecstatics. Panamanians and Americans and Canadians and Salvadorians and Mexicans, in 24 hours the message has spread far and wide, and in this time of darkness and despair, people believe.

Alex has at his fingers more power than he knows what to do with. Fríða takes some of it, siphons it off, channels it into its Static and Dynamic and Primordial Essences, and then feeds it back to Alex’s control, neatly arrayed. She is the filter that provides a context for Kal’s prison—whenever he arrives—but he is the Power.

Ren rests on Alex’s left shoulder; Nadira places her hand on his right. For once she is silent, because he can do it.

Alex relishes the power flowing into him. He laughs to himself as he twists the wind over the Pacific into a cyclone, drawing water into the atmosphere as it rains down on itself, creating a feedback loop. The storm gains strength as it speeds towards North America. It grows larger and larger, trapping ash and debris from Yellowstone within droplets of water to be deposited though out the cities, farmland and forests it makes contact with. Similar storms appear, travelling towards Europe, Asia, anywhere that has lost the warmth of the sun.

Maybe Alex has always been a mage of slow realization rather than sudden ecstasy. The feeling of triumph overwhelms him as he advances not only the world but his own spirit, passing the Seeking that began when he first set foot in his Net, when he chose to alter his destiny and the sky together rather than embrace the past that had been written. He is a Disciple now, and bound to the Net and its powers more strongly than any.

The hurricane hits the coast at an alarming, accelerated speed, pulling debris from the atmosphere and forcing it into the ocean. Europe, Africa, and Asia are farther from him—his direct web of control is only over this continent—but the sky is all connected, and it rains there too.

Overhead St Louis, the morning sky pierces the clouds for the first time in months.

As Alex feels the power of the ritual secede from him, he’s left with pleasant exhaustion.

Who Treads the Stars...

The party traveling to Saturn is the first to depart, Jessica’s firm intention to put as much distance between them and Kal as possible.

There is some small preparation before they leave. Jessica, with Will, contacts Ursula to request her presence on the mission.

“Are you crazy?” The Iterator asks the Dreamspeaker. “I’m not going to Saturn with you. Not with a 24-hour deadline and an apocalyptic event in our atmosphere.” She glances at Will on the screen before deciding against discouraging him from this course of action. It’s his mother. Besides, she has everyone she can working on the weather. Ursula promises to help with the defense of the Chakravanti instead.

Once America loops the vampires in, Kouamé takes Jessica’s offer to join them up. That makes their party 7. Jacob expresses interest in coming, too, but Jessica redirects him to help with the necromancy. A medium has no particular skills for this mission.

Ursula has one last offer: an escort made up of members of her old amalgam, whom she trusts. If one of them was going to betray her to Kal they had their chance already. “Space can be a dangerous place. If things get rough, they can cover your retreat.”

It’s still night when they leave with the Dreamspeaker: Will, Dylan, Ava, Aaron, Daniel, and Kouamé. It’s going to be night, from their perspective, for quite a while.

Jessica’s mode of transit is so subtle they don’t even realize they’re in the Umbra until they notice that the rest of the chantry is empty. The seven trek outside an open door—one that doesn’t exist in the chantry itself—to find a beautiful, winter landscape and a deep velvet sky speckled with thousands upon thousands of stars, more than any of them has seen in their lifetime. The Dreamspeaker leads them to a slow-flowing stream, and they watch as a solitary leaf falls into the water. Then the stream is a river, and the leaf large enough for Jessica to step out onto, gathering the others to come behind her. It’s a bit crowded, but the six of them fit standing behind the seated Jessica. The leaf flows gently downstream.

Then things transition. Now the stream is flowing through the sky, merging with the Milky Way, and the leaf is bigger—the size of a large living room now, with space enough for the travelers to comfortably lay about. When Ava moves to the edge, trailing her fingers into the water, Jessica doesn’t chastise her, but merely cautions: “Don’t fall off.” They travel for several hours through the sky, but time passes in a dreamlike quality.

Except for Daniel, all of the travelers fall asleep. When they awaken, this time they are in space. The sun is nowhere to be seen, and the moon draws close. A breeze gently plays at their faces as they move through space. It’s Jessica’s magick that lets even the technomancer, even the Sleeper breathe and exist in space.

“The Void Engineers will meet us at the Moon.” Jessica says, and then she does not say anything else.

The Void Engineers’ ship is a thing of art and fancy, all spires and geometric lines, a fusion of futuristic substance and the vision of sailing ships of long ago. Dylan chokes a little when he sees it, and Aaron and Ava are both impressed. The Daughters both remain impassive, Jessica whispering in the wind at length before nodding. “It’s them.”

The Dreamspeaker is only too happy to guide the leaf to hide under the bulk of their ship, tethering it so she can rest. It’s her that will actually have to get them past the Horizon.

They have brought some supplies—food and water, because where they’re going there isn’t any. Nor do they have the luxury of communicating with Earth—beyond the fact that most of them simply can’t, they need to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. Instead they watch the starscape pass to their port and starboard (the overhead and behind being ship). They talk amongst themselves, they tell stories. Each of them finds the inclination to do so strong, and the art easier than it normally is.

Aaron tells stories from the previous loop, of good times he and Sonia and Will had. He talks of vaguer memories with Daniel, from a loop further into the 90s when he was older. Kouamé talks about the past, and his steadfast faith in the Technocracy despite the failures of imperialism, of being born into a world of colonies and watching as one-by-one nations in the third world threw off their shackles. He talks about being black, powerful and Enlightened, and having to work past Europeans who didn’t know a tenth of what he knew.

Ava’s stories tend toward the lighthearted: trips she took with Kite, places and people she’d seen. Deliberately spoiling movies for Gabrielle, before she was powerful enough to travel in her own right, until one day Gabrielle told her “Dumbledore dies.” Ava just laughed when asked who Dumbledore was. She talks about seeing the moon landing and then going straight to the World Trade Center riots in Seattle, of shaking the Technocrats in their tree. Dylan shares on some of these stories, talking about living in a cabal of mages as a Sleeper in the 70s.

Jessica talks least, but she opens up about being a trans woman and a mage, and how each of these isolated her and cut her off from people she thought were friends, but each opened up worlds of possibility in her and around her. None of their compatriots are particularly ignorant: Kouamé is old enough to predate much of Western cultures suppression of gender, and both Dylan and Ava have walked in circles that included trans women, even more than Aaron. And Will might be aware Linda is trans, even if she dislikes talking about it.

The journey to Saturn is subjectively the longest journey. At some point they realize from their perspective 24 hours have passed—but not on Earth. They pass by the sun—counter-intuitive since they’re trying to go farther out of the solar system, but from a Technocratic perspective, Saturn is on that end.

The Horizon comes upon them suddenly—a vivid wall of prismatic light, beyond which strange suns can be seen shining white. If this is the asteroid belt, it is nothing like what they might have imagined the asteroid belt to be like. The leaf separates from the ship at this point, advancing, and Jessica raises her arms and stomps her foot, chanting a call to the spirits. The wall parts, opening a triangle which the leaf-ship passes through, followed by the Voidship. On the other side, Jessica diminishes and allows the ship to dock again.

This end seems much… darker. Emptier, though there are still stars in the sky. They will pass Jupiter next.

Jupiter—or more specifically its moons—is probably the most dangerous part of their journey before they reach the Shade Realm of Time. All four factions are fighting here—Technocrats and Traditionalists, Marauders and Nephandi. Jessica adds her power to the voidship, so that they can be free as soon as possible.

“So I agreed to bottom if I lost the bet, but he takes off his pants and I’m like, there’s no way,” Aaron begins. “He was too small?” Ava asks, rapt. She and Dylan at least are here for this story. Aaron shakes his head, and waves his forearm. “No, I was like, there is nowhere on my body,” He gestures at his mouth and hips, “That that is going to fit inside. And he was like—”

The ship rocks, Aaron’s head jerking downward as he’s half-thrown onto Ava. Kouamé is up in an instant, he and Jessica looking in the same place. “That’s a Nephandus ship!” He calls out. The Voidship is turning to face it.

The black monstrosity is larger than the Voidship, by a lot. It looks something like a screaming whale, wrapped in barbed wire, with human corpse-like appendages wound around it. “Size isn’t everything,” Jessica calls. “They don’t always have many mages. Throw everything you have at it.”

Daniel is too fascinated with the process to sleep. From the moment they left the Chantry to the moment they started to float into the sky, the Ecstatic mage had been deep in childlike wonder and reverie. Everyone drifted off to sleep and he was left to lie back and watch the stars as they came closer and closer. He’s singing softly to himself when everyone comes back to, David Bowie’s Space Oddity the first thing that came to mind as they finally reached space.

His quiet reverence doesn’t end until after they have made contact with the Void Engineer’s ship and are on their way forward once more. He listens with rapt attention to the stories offered, especially when Aaron speaks of their loop off in the future.

At some point in that 24 hour period, he finds himself opening up and revealing more about himself than he ever has. About his experiences with being a gay Jewish kid, and how Awakening helped him come to terms with himself. About his brother and how he’s been hiding and running from him for the past three years. About living in different cities, being a part of different communities, and how the LGBT community overlapped with the Awakened community in them.

His attention wavers in and out from listening to others’ stories to watching the sky as it changes above them. He falls completely silent again as they pass through the Horizon. “Wow,” He whispers silently. If these are their last hours alive, they’re not the worst way to go.

He is also listening too Aaron’s story with bright eyes when the ship is rocked. He swivels his head about to see where the Maurader ship would be coming from, eyes wide at the sight of it. “That thing is horrifying.” He breaths. He pulls out his headphones from a pocket and stuffs them into his ears as he focuses on the breeze blowing past them, trying to redirect it toward blowing the Nephandus ship away with a bit more force.

Will is absolutely exhausted by the time they board their leaf boat, and quite possibly one of the first to doze off. He oversaw moving his mother’s remains, grave and all, to the location of Matt‘s choosing; even if Ursula had Technocrats to manage the actual transport, offsetting the threat of Paradox for him, the entire experience is digging up all manner of emotions for him. No pun intended. He isn’t sure now which is worse: believing, at age seven, that his mother was gone forever and ever, or knowing, at sixteen, that she’s been alive and trapped beyond Time all along. He’s afraid to bring his Sleeper father on a trip this dangerous, and struggling to balance the hope that he may see his mother again with the pragmatic knowledge of how unlikely they are to succeed.

On top of that, he spent some time rigging up an extra heads-up contact lens for Dylan. There are better Time mages in the party, but it’s Will’s opinion that their attention is better spent steering them and keeping them all alive. He can spare the attention to share his perceptions with his father. Now Dylan can perceive the world as Will sees it, the constant stream of information and connection that binds it all together flickering past his vision in the form of ghostly code.

Like Jessica, he isn’t an oversharer. There’s too much on his mind. Even knowing that Alex and Karasi can handle the Net on their own, Will feels selfish to have chosen this trip over that one. They had all agreed that fixing the weather was the most important thing. He talks about Jahan, of all people, his eyes on the umbral stars that pass them by. They found and saved each other so many times. This may in fact be the first time Dylan hears the full, true story of how the boys met. On what may be his final trip into the Umbra, it feels appropriate to speak of his best friend.

He doesn’t rise to his feet in response to the Nephandus’ ship, though his jaw sets at the terrible sight of it. Will’s eyes scan over its surface, the readings flickering past both his and Dylan’s HUDs swiftly as he parses the shape of them. They entered the Umbra in a ship made of Matter. He doesn’t have the ability to literally remove it from existence, and it would take too long to move something that large away from them, but it can’t hold its shape if it disperses into gas, can it? Focusing on his handheld, Will begins to adjust the density of the ship itself, tweaking the parameters of the data that defines it. If it thins out enough, they can just dump the Nephandi inside into open space. And if they came here in a ship in the first place, that may be enough to be rid of them.

It’s a lot of Matter to change at once, but dissolve just the right parts and the Nephandi will be sucked into space. Will sees his programming begin to take hold, and then stop. Somebody on that ship is skilled in Matter, probably a technomancer. They reverse his code, rewriting it to try and dissolve the equipment Will is using. By the looks of it, they don’t know how much matter they’re trying to dissolve—it wouldn’t require as much effort as they’re putting into it. They may be assuming he, too, is on the ship and vulnerable to the vacuum.

Daniel doesn’t encounter any resistance—he’s not trying to actively threaten their lives—but it’s going to take a lot more time to generate enough force to even slow a ship that size down to any significant degree. It fires again.

Aaron is abuptly behind Daniel. “Why don’t we try slowing them down?” He breathes on the back of Daniel’s neck, waiting for the Ecstatic’s consent before jumping into a ritual with him. Ava groans. “How about one I can actually help with?”

“You’ve got all the drugs,” Aaron shoots back at her. “Or just close your eyes and think of England. Or Gabrielle.”

“Everybody inside!” Jessica calls, and then pre-empts the need by phase shifting them inside the Voidship. There is a giant observation window—to the back, across the domed ceiling-wall, below their feet—just about anywhere there’s not a door or equipment. Most of it would have to be a hologram, but the outline of the room is still visible in translucent edges, so it doesn’t look like they’re floating in space. “We can’t outrun them, and if we get a direct hit this ship can shield you more than I can.” She turns her attention back to whatever she was doing—Kouamé and Dylan can’t really participate, Will is doing his own thing, and the Ecstatics can at least try something.

“Look,” Dylan says, alerted by his expanded perceptions and lack of preoccupation. “Reinforcements coming. And more… hellships.” He stares at the window in rapt wonder at the space battle unfolding around them.

Daniel would keep doing what he’s doing, trying to build up more and more magic to make his wind stronger, but…

He goes still as Aaron speaks, the hairs on his neck standing on end. “Yes, let’s try that.” He answers after a split second of hesitation. “Two is better than one.” Daniel turns toward his fellow Ecstatic.

“No one is saying you can’t help. We don’t bite, Ava.” Daniel pauses. “Unless you’re into that.”

“Ffffuck,” Will hisses under his breath. Pointedly trying to ignore the nascent stages of a threesome, he turns away from the others in the room and goes on the defensive. He starts plugging extra ports on the firewall on his handheld to keep them from tearing his focus apart. It’ll make his next attack a bit more complex, but magick-wise he won’t be much use to anyone here if his handheld falls apart. Even if the Technocrats have a device he can borrow, it won’t be burned in.

Aaron brings his mouth down against Daniel’s ear, running his tongue down his neck. That spark is enough to start the Ecstatic connection between them, and then, reluctantly, Ava joins in. Aaron nudges Daniel’s shoulder so they can all face and act on each other, and then leans down to kiss Ava, running his nails along the top of her breast. It’s not quite a threesome, but it’s enough to expand their perceptions, and allow each person’s success to be shared. As their ecstasy builds, so too does their Time Effect.

Whoever Will is squaring off against is about as good as him, whether its a single Adept, or a pair of weaker mages, or one mage and a whole lot of infernalist Sleeper backup. They don’t seem to have looked before they reached out though, targeting as though Will’s handheld was a lot bigger than it is, across a larger area. That might contribute to how Will manages to erect some defenses unmolested.

The Voidship gets off a few good shots, but the Nephandi ship’s hull largely absorbs the damage, even if it loses some of the weird bodies attached.

“Jessica,” Aaron moans around someone’s mouth on his neck.

“No,” The Dreamspeaker says firmly, sitting cross-legged as she faces the battle.

“No. I mean, you can if you want.” Aaron waggles his eyebrows. “I was just wondering if you could get us out of here if we slow the mmm… the mmmNephandi down.”

If they didn’t look before they leaped then they aren’t as good as him. “Dad, I need your help,” Will says, lifting his voice to be heard over the Ecstatics in the room. He toggles the readout on his handheld, highlighting any direct attacks against his firewall in an unmissable neon green, and filters the output to his father’s display to show more of that, less of everything else. “Just tell me if that starts lighting up, okay?” He shifts his attention, looking up to watch the Voidship’s firing pattern. Instead of trying to pull the Nephandus ship apart in general, he picks on the points the Technocracy’s vessel is targeting, trying to force that matter to become more brittle and prone to breaking.

The initial soft gasp that escapes Daniel’s throat is involuntary. An Ecstatic mage needs to be prepared for this sort of thing at all times, but it’s still been a while. Much like Ava, there is an initial reluctance, but it melts away as the feeling of getting caught up in the ritual takes over. Wandering hands find the hems of shirts to slip up under and lips and teeth find sensitive places along necks and collarbones. His focus does tend toward Aaron, though he doesn’t leave Ava out in the cold.

“I can do that,” Dylan says, tearing his eyes away from the battle. Abruptly a privacy screen leaps into existence between the Ecstatics and the others. Kouamé walks around it. “The least I could do to cut down on distractions.” White noise starts playing—if Will needs to see over there his handheld can give him better readings than his eyes anyway.

Between Will and the Technocrats themselves, they manage to cause some noticeable damage to the ship. Now the Nephandi are on the defensive, trying to repair the damage faster than Will and the Voidship can inflict it.

A second, smaller ship leaps up into view. If the other ship is a mothership, this is a fighter, looking something like a tortured fish with half its guts ripped out. And it’s close. Very close.

Dylan makes a decision, the light going off in his head. He runs to one of the active consoles in the room, half-relying on the perceptions from the contact lens to send a jamming signal to the smaller Nephandi ship. And because Will is monitoring it, he notices his father using Correspondence and Matter to send a jamming signal to the ship.

Dylan. Just used Matter and Correspondence. To jam the ship.

Even his father seems surprised it worked. He looks down at the controls, as if they finally make sense to him in a way they wouldn’t, couldn’t have before.

With the enthusiastic participation of all three, the ritual climaxes. Aaron reaches out with their support, grabbing the ship—and hell, the smaller fighter too—and rapidly pulling them out of synch with normal time, so they can run like molasses, three, four times slower than the events around them. They’re going to have a hard time pursuing like that. “Jessica, get us out of here!” After a moment’s delay, the Voidship starts to pull away.

Even after this short interaction, Will recognizes the look and feel of the Nephandi’s effects, the grayish static of the Voidship’s Engineers. He couldn’t pick them out in a crowd like, say, Kate, but he’s able to tell them apart side by side like this, on the fly. When a totally new pattern bursts across his field of vision like a spray of fireworks, he stops dead, his head swiveling towards Dylan at the console. His father hardly knows how to turn a computer on; what is he doing over there?

It’s a good thing Jessica and the Ecstatics have it together, because as Will plays back the unfamiliar effect, realization sets in. “Dad!!” He races across the room to join Dylan, excitement absolutely radiating off of him. “What the hell?!” He’s never exactly been an affectionate kid, especially in the past six months, but in his elation he throws his arms around his father. “Took you long enough!”

Dylan seems startled and unresponsive as Will throws his arms around him. He doesn’t even have one sphere yet, but in this moment, the moment of his Awakening, it doesn’t matter. “Did I do magick?” The light in his head is fireworks now. “Am I magick?”

The battle is quickly turning into a conflagration. The Engineers may have crippled the first ship but more are I pursuit. Their Voidship is too large of a target.

A leaf, though?

Jessica transfers them back, ripping Dylan away from the console in an art of cosmic cruelty. Their leafship stays on course as the Voidship peels away, facing the Nephandi to buy their escape.

The Ecstatics deepen their Ecstasy behind the privacy curtain. This is a time they need more Time.

Besides, they may all be dead soon. Even Ava appreciates the last chance to get laid she has.

“Yeah,” Will replies, releasing Dylan so he can see his son’s ear-to ear-to grin. “You did magick. Technomancy, even.” Which is about when they’re suddenly on a leaf again, with no more consoles for Dylan to play with. He finds somewhere sufficiently far from the Ecstatics to be and waves Dylan over. “Let me tell you what you’re looking at,” he offers. Even if his father isn’t going to be a Virtual Adept – it’s too soon to tell – many Technomancers roughly overlap when it comes to the sensory levels of magick.

Between Light and Dark

It’s very late into the evening when the Avengers who went to the Starlight Passage return. When they do, Daniel is carrying Jianyu in his arms, and they are accompanied not just by Aaron, but Jessica, Matt, and Fríða.

Their mission was successful, but at a price: Jianyu’s mind was locked away, and neither Jessica, nor Fríða, nor Matt has been able to reach him—Matt tried, despite the Masters’ warning that he needed a Master of Mind.

The party arrives through a Shallowing Jessica creates, emerging on the street by the Chantrymobile. Ohio is cold—no colder than Iowa, but much colder than the golden path they walked through the spirit world.

Aaron’s had some time to walk and talk with Sonia. His face still lights up to see Will, though it falls a little at Will’s reaction. Sonia and Will may feel like they’re seeing an old friend, but that’s all. Moreover, he has aged while they have stayed in place. He’s not 17 anymore. He’s not going to kiss Sonia, or hug Will.

Maybe a normal cabal would get to rest now, but with Kal‘s 24-hour warning—less than 24 hours—they don’t have time for that. The groups share what each other has learned.

During this time, Alex‘s Avatar has been extremely excitable. His mother admonishes him for letting Johann get away, although the admonishment is half-hearted. It takes the form of Alex’s father. “Balance each thought against its opposite!” He advises Alex. “For the Marriage of these is the Annihilation of Illusion.”

It takes the form of Nadira. “You chose to change your nature, and you must now embrace that. Don’t use luck to shoot him, you jhor-addled fool. Use lightning. Watch the flesh crackle on his bones. His skin burn and scar. Use the winds to hurl your enemy into the wall, to send debris ripping through him. Strike him down with hail and rain.” If Alex was unsure whether jhor affected Avatars, he has his answer. Listening to her lurid descriptions isn’t doing anything to bring him out of his Quiet, either.

“Remember, equilibrium is the basis of your Work,” She adds, sounding more like his father. “If you don’t have a sure foundation, where will you stand to direct the forces of nature?”

No one else can hear the half-philosophical, half-graphic ramblings of his Avatar, but there’s plenty of conversation to be had. Alethia, who was drained of her blood in the confrontation with Kate, has gone out to replenish whatever America did not give her, and rest. Linda is okay, but laying down after Johann’s psychic attack. That still leaves the Avengers—Daniel, America, Will, Sonia, Alex—Matt, Xifeng, Fríða, Jessica, Sapphira, Dylan, Ava, Aaron and Karasi.

“Will,” Aaron begins once they are settled in the chantry, and once he collects himself. “Your mother is alive.”

That stops the conversation. “In the last loop, I gained access to memories of another loop—the one where I knew you,” He says, looking to Daniel. “I figured out what Kal was doing, and he came to confront me. I guess him doing that made ”/characters/gabrielle-harrison" class=“wiki-content-link”>Gabrielle figure it out. She came to confront him, but he was ready for her. He turned her into salt before he did it to me. But… I don’t know where she is."

“I do.” Jessica answers. “It’s the information I nearly lost my life for. Gabrielle is trapped in the Shade Realm of Time, in Saturn.”

“Well let’s go.” Sonia is the first to speak. Jessica clucks her tongue. “Child, you don’t simply go to Saturn. Think about what you’re asking. You need a Master of Spirit to cross the Horizon—that’s me. Assuming we don’t meet any Marauders or Cosmic Nephandi along the way, Saturn is the most dangerous Shade Realm.”

“What is a Shade Realm?” Sapphira asks. It’s frustrating, even as a mage, to have people talking about things you don’t understand. Especially as a Mage.

Jessica turns both her palms up. “Shard Realms and Shade Realms. Shard Realms are the literal planets you learned about in school. You can reach them through space if you’re a Technocrat, or the Umbra. Shade Realms are… basically the shadow those realms cast on the Horizon. When you look into the sky and see a planet, you’re seeing the Shade Realm on the surface of the sky. At least, you’re seeing an entrance. A Shade Realm is like an entire Universe where that Sphere rules supreme. Mercury, for example, is Correspondence, and Venus is Life…”

“Alex!” Sonia begins. “We went there. When you found me in the Umbra. But neither of us is a Master?”

“As I said,” Jessica explains patiently. “They are entire universes. The easiest way to get there is the surface of the Horizon, and you don’t need a Master to get there. But the part we need to go, we need to go to the Shard Realm—to Saturn. That’s where he put her. And therein lies the problem. In the realm of Time, every dimension is time. If you move, you are time-traveling. If you stand still, you are time traveling, in either direction. Your body will age too. You could take three steps in and leave, and come back 6000 years in the past, 30 years older than when you left. I could take the same three steps and end up 27,000 years in the future, but now I’m younger than I was when I went in. Even Masters of Time can’t control this process. It’s a suicide mission for almost everyone who goes.”

“But,” She continues. “Someone needs to go. As long as whoever travels there has some knowledge of Time, they can probably avoid taking steps that will instantly kill them. He didn’t leave her too far inside—it was dangerous even to him. If we can reach her, we can revive her—the spell uses Grief.”

“Tears,” Aaron says immediately. “Genuine tears. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who can’t produce them.”

“But… Gabrielle died. She left a body.” Matt says slowly. He’s seen the body. He killed Eleanor for it.

“She didn’t travel holistically. He put her there astrally,” Jessica explains, which draws a slow nod from Aaron. “That’s the other problem. When Gabrielle is revived, she will immediately awaken in her body. If this had happened within weeks… She will need someone to restore the damage of her body so her first memories aren’t awakening in a corpse.”

Matt nods. This part, he understands. “The deep ”/wikis/chakravanti" class=“wiki-page-link”> Euthanatos magick." He looks between Xifeng and Sonia. “We can do it.”

“Can you?” Jessica asks. She’s not challenging him, but they need to know before they try it. “”/characters/c-cile-beauchene" class=“wiki-content-link”>Cécile could. She was the Master of Entropy and Matter, of Life. Do you know how?"

“I know what to do,” Matt repeats. “I have enough Matter and Life to restore her body. If she doesn’t like it she can correct it herself.” He says sourly.

“Wait,” Sonia asks. “Should we be raising the dead like this? This seems a bit like necromancy.”

“She’s not dead,” Jessica replies. “She’s trapped. Eventually, Shade Realm of Time will push her to the edges, or she’ll be found and disturbed by the creatures who live there. There are Marauders or Nephandi there who might have a use for a frozen Archmage. Or eventually, even Kal’s spell will unravel under paradox. How much more jarring if it happens a thousand years from now when she’s just bones? It was never meant to kill her.”

“We’ll do it.” Dylan says gravely. Ava places her hand on his shoulder.

Karasi looks at Alex and Will. Each of them has the same thought, that they know the others share. They cannot go on a suicide mission unless one of them is fixing the weather. “Our first duty is to restore this planet. If we die, or we run out of time…”

“We don’t all have to go,” Ava retorts. “There are what, 14 of us here? Plus Linda, and the vampires, and the Technocrats. Maybe I want to see Saturn before Kal offs me.”

“There’s definitely enough work for more than two teams.” Fríða says evenly. “And most of us can’t get into the Net now. We have a plan for the weather. Do we have a plan to fight Kal? Especially if this one fails?”

“It’s a good time for it. Do you realize tomorrow is the Equinox?” Sapphira asks. She’s looking at Alex. “At 8:41 in the morning. The time when light and dark are in perfect balance, when power shifts from winter and darkness to spring and light. It’s the perfect juncture for change—to change the weather, to change the balance of power between us and Kal.”

Will is visibly startled when he meets Aaron, which might explain the Ecstatic’s reaction. Though his own understanding of Time has grown, his perception is still rather linear; he’s never befriended Aaron, and yet he knows that he has. His welcome is muted as he tries to sort through his own feelings. Sonia, on the other hand, gets a quick, relieved hug, though he’s quick to return to maintaining his own personal space again.

He shares all the details he can remember of the Net and their interaction with Johann, but he falls silent at Aaron’s announcement, and he remains that way as the others discuss it. Will is an initiate of Time. He could go to Saturn and maybe survive, and there is nothing he wants to do more right now than rescue his mother. But he can feel the pressure of the Net’s geas more strongly than ever, now that they know they have less than 24 hours to figure this out, and especially now that there is somewhere else he’d rather be.

“Well, it sounds like Matt and I need to get to… Davenport? Wherever Gabrielle was buried,” Xifeng pipes up. “Sonia too, or is she needed elsewhere?” If her mentor says they can do this, she will put her faith in him. “And if Kal means to remove everyone who’s helped us from the Tellurian, then all of these other factions should have a vested interest in falling in line with whatever we plan, or they’ll be written out as well.”

Will softly clears his throat. “We still haven’t refilled the Net. It’s locked, but we need to fuel it to fix the weather, and to seal Kal away. I have to be focused on that. I have shitloads of people who are trying to help us, all over the world,” he adds, waving his handheld. “Maybe now that Alex has reprogrammed it, it’ll be easier to fill it up. And we’ve got our master of Prime back,” he adds with a little nod to Fríða.

It /has/ been a lot to take in. America Anders sighs after the initial return, her armour retracting back into itself, leaving only her gauntlets as bracers. She offers Alethia as much of her blood as she can without incapacitating herself. Then, she rests on the couch while the discussion takes place.

“We have a hot tub,” she says softly from her position of laze, a damp facecloth on her forehead, covering her eyes. “Could we redirect the location from Hollow Earth to Saturn?” she asks after the silence in the room suggests nobody understands the correlation between relaxing bath experiences and any of the calamity that threatens their next 24 hours.

She stirs as Will discusses the plan to trap Kal. They’ve still so much to do and so little time within which to accomplish their tasks. “A squad to reclaim time Mom, another to supercharge the Net, and two more-” she goes on, pausing to lick her lips and sigh. “Well we’ve got Kal’s attention, but we need a team to lure him to the Muon trap and another to focus on inverting his arcane on himself so everything in the fucking universe forgets he ever existed.”

Then she lays there, having no idea how many people are standing around and what their expressions are.

Alex is visibly distracted as his avatar shifts from person to person, instruction to criticism. As Nadira encourages him to jump off the edge he simply shakes his head mumbling to himself, “no more killing. Too much jhor.”

He chimes in as the work plan starts taking form. “Will, I think helping Gabrielle is in line with our purpose. If Kal can erase us, she would be the only one with a chance to undo that. I will go to my chantry and coordinate the weather from there. It may be safer for the three of us to not be in the same locale.” He nods slightly to Will and Karasi at the last part.

Alex then looks directly at Xifeng. “The vision Gabrielle shared with me was of Kal killing me at Davenport, but I think if she had shared this with you it would have been you with your back broken. In Davenport we will find only death.”. He looks around the room, lingering on Will and Linda. “Why would anyone go to Gabrielle’s grave? Just bring her here. Now.”

In the initial aftermath of everyone coming back together, Daniel did not move from Jianyu’s side. He made sure the Dreamspeaker was settled somewhere comfortable and watched diligently even when Matt tried to help him. He’s stayed with him while everyone else got settled in and came downstairs just in time to find a spot of wall to lean against as the big planning meeting begun.

He’s silent, processing what is being tossed around and chewing on a calloused finger. “It would be smarter. I’m sure he’s going to be watching Davenport like a hawk now. Or Kate will.” He agrees with Alex. Who’s he to talk, though? “I think we all need to play our strengths here, though, definitely. I will go with the group to Saturn.”

“Will, you should go get your mother. Alex is the best one to do the ritual.” She hesitates. She has a grasp of Time too. “I will stay on Earth in case I am needed.”

Matt snorts. “Do you really think the location is that important, Alex? He’s going to try to stop us no matter where we are.”

“If we move the bod—sorry,” Sapphira fumbles, “Gabrielle here, he can attack the chantry just as easily. It’s a matter of choosing /where/ we want to fight him.”

“And it means we will need protectors. Meat shields, for us to go through. I guess we have a job for the Technocrats. Let Kal viciously murder a few of them to keep Sonia, Xifeng and I safe.” Sonia gives Matt a weird look, but Matt is staring at Alex. She follows his gaze to the Hermetic.

“Mm. The hot tub?” Jessica asks. “I can take a look. I’m not sure moving the portal will be easier or faster than traveling there. But I will look. Anything that saves us time might be worth the effort.”

“I’m ”/wikis/cult-of-ecstasy" class=“wiki-page-link”> Esctatic, I’ll go to Saturn," Aaron says. “Me, too,” Dylan says quietly. Jessica looks at him. “No. I’m not taking anyone who doesn’t have a sense of Time. You’ll be defenseless.”

“I am GOING to Saturn.”

“It’s the Shade Realm of Time. You are Unawakened, defenseless. You need—”

“I am going to Saturn.” Dylan repeats tonelessly. Jessica glances at Will, but whatever sympathy she was expecting to find she doesn’t see it. She sighs. “Fine. Let it be on your head.”

“Alex, your jhor is worse than when Sonia first reported it. You need to be careful.” Xifeng didn’t know about Alex’s jhor, but Matt warned her about it when they found Cécile. What jhor was, and her concerns about him falling into it, though he believes her and Sonia give him purpose enough to keep him out of it. Now that Cécile is gone, it’s up to Xifeng to monitor him for jhor. He even let her feel the resonance pass through her body, as unpleasant as that was. But she’s never seen it naturally in action.

“Is it safe for him to do a ritual like this?” Fríða asks. Trust the Master of Prime to be concerned about resonances. “Do we have time to find someone more qualified?” Matt retorts. “As long as he can go 24 hours without murdering anyone it shouldn’t matter. He’s not going to get jhor fixing the weather.” What could possibly go wrong?

“Okay,” Fríða begins. “If we’re using the Net to refuel the weather and catch Kal, do we need to… reprogram it to do the latter?”

“Then I’ll go to Saturn,” Will says without any further hesitation. That’s where he wants to be, and his compulsion to work with the Net subsides as Alex and Karasi confirm that they have it covered. “I can forward my contacts to Linda, and she can help the two of you use them.”

Xifeng’s brow tics as Matt refers to her former colleagues as meat shields. When he calls Alex out, she glances across the room at him, testing the hum of resonance in the air to detect the jhor herself. Matt’s been away doing who even knows what; she looks back to him too, studying him for a moment. “It was probably what he tried to do to ”/characters/victor-o-hannigan" class=“wiki-content-link”>Victor. And that’s a bit optimistic, don’t you think? Can we send someone with him to monitor him? Storms kill people all the time."

Will has basically tuned out of that conversation at this point, though he could likely provide some personal insight into how much of a shithead Matt can be when someone’s lousy with jhor. “I- I guess I can move her,” he says slowly, though he certainly never imagined using Correspondence to dig up his mother’s grave. “Anywhere we want. Or I can send you to her. But the vampires and Technocrats we’ve been working with are here in Cincinnati, so it’ll be a lot easier to give you a fortified place to work here…”

He trails off, looking at his father. He’s shaking his head in agreement with Jessica when the Dreamspeaker looks at him. To Will’s credit, his response is more measured than it might have been a year ago, when his father first found out he was a mage and they found themselves in a constant power struggle between father and son. “Dad, I get it, but if it’s that dangerous it might not be a good idea. One of us will need to look after you, which means we won’t just be focused on what’s happening around us. I can do it,” he adds quickly, “but if we don’t save mom and we lose you there, too…” That’s both of his parents, lost to the same place.

Alex shakes his head in frustration. “Yes, of course he can attack us anywhere. The distinction is that we know he will attack us in Davenport. We know he will effectively kill one or all of us who go there. That degree of certainty does not exist elsewhere. Can we not lace the teleportation and healing effects with a glamour to mislead Kal and his cronies? Especially when while we divide his attention with other teams?”

He completely checks out of the hot tub conversation. He’s never had issues getting to the Umbra, but most people probably wouldn’t like his method. At the mention of his jhor, he simply shrugs. “I did try to sufficate Victor with his own effect.”

All this talk about jhor has drawn America’s attention. She removes the washcloth from her forehead, placing it on the side table, and sits up. “This is news to me. Hold still,” she says, pulling up her gauntlet and after adjusting dials, a disc spins and lifts up to just below the ceiling. It spins so quickly that when it begins spewing sparkles and colours, they fan out in a wide area, slowly sinking down like gentle snow.

America focuses on the readings displayed on her armguard as the disc returns down to its place on her bracer. Since reaching a greater understanding of Prime, and in particular since her workshop with Fríða and Will, America has been attempting to isolate and map everyone’s resonance to form a radar of sorts. The effort should not only help her identify where specific individuals are, but also detect what sort of resonance they have. She watches as the resonances for all around her pop up on her readings.

“Fine,” Matt rolls his eyes. “Teleport your mother’s corpse to Davenport. But death is more than just the body it leaves behind—I need the grave dirt, the headstone, as much of the place as you and Dylan touched as you can. It won’t be the same, but it’ll be close.”

“Matt,” Dylan says in an undertone. “Watch it. You’re in his house.” To Will, “It’s my decision to go. I can’t just stand by and watch you risk yourself alone. If I don’t make it I want you to have your mother again. Besides, going to Saturn only MIGHT kill me. Staying here on Earth with Kal definitely will.” His eyes flick to Xifeng. “Unless we’re too insignificant to be counted in that threat.” Kate did leave him here when she teleported ‘the people involved’ to her lair. But a future where just he and an ex-Woman in Black he barely likes are alive is not one he cares to come to pass.

Hey,” Xifeng says, almost right on top of Dylan. She’s chiding Matt, though she lets Dylan say his piece first. Will looks about ready to throw something at her Mentor right now. “Matt, are you feeling okay? That was rude even for you.” She’s doing her best to check him for jhor herself, but she’s not as powerful or experienced as America. She suspects, but she isn’t sure.

Will exhales heavily, trying to balance his frustration with Matt against his worry for his father, plus that sparkly thing America is doing is a bit distracting. “Then you have to let us watch out for you, okay? I can patch you into my handheld. Daniel and Jessica are better with Time than me, so they can focus on the bigger picture I guess.” Matt’s little fit apparently doesn’t dignify a response. He’s an Adept of Correspondence. He can teleport it all.

“Kal.” Alex repeats after Xifeng is finished. “We still need to make a prison for me. I refocused the Net while I was inside it, but it had a similar effect on me as well. I don’t know that I can change it again.”

He turns to America. “Are you studying me?”

The Daughter of Ether shrugs and nods, “Sure,” she replies dismissively, hardly interested in getting involved in the snappy remarks being exchanged by the group. She’s more focused on her readouts. With pursed lips, she looks up at Alex narrowing her eyes as she tries to pick up visual clues to corroborate what she’s seeing in his resonance. Then her eyes turn to Matt. “Both of you are suffering some serious degradation of your Etheric concentration,” she explains. “I guess that’s jhor. It is eating both of you, badly. Karasi, less so.”

America looks to Fríða with a smile, hoping to find approval from her prime mom for the application of discoveries from their previous endeavour. “There’s a lot more I need to learn about this. There is something up with you two as well,” she says addressing Will and Sonia, “I can’t tell really. I’ll figure it out with more time. It would be a lot easier if you were doing magic while I get a reading.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Matt retorts. “I haven’t killed anyone with magick in ages.”

“Matt,” Sonia says softly.

“Matt you could probably kill everyone in this chantry with enough planning and motive.” Fríða adds. “We should take it seriously.”

“Believe me, if I wanted to kill them all they’d be dead right now.”

“Matt!” Sonia repeats. “You trained me to take that seriously even if I didn’t want to hear it. I don’t want anything to happen to you,” Her voice softens.

“You and I did kill with magick,” Karasi says to Alex. They seem to be accepting this much better than the Chakravanti is. “So we need… meditation. Calm? A do-not-murder buddy system?” She jests.

“I really don’t think we can worry about this all right now,” Sapphira says. “Matt will do his ritual. Alex will do his. We will keep people close to them who can keep them in check—people they have an emotional connection to.”

Fríða smiles at America. “So how did you work it out?” She asks in an undertone. It’s nice to see young people taking an interest in Prime instead of the flashy spheres like Forces and Matter.

“I mean. You killed me,” Xifeng says mildly. “Then the world entered into nuclear winter and your mentor died. Don’t get defensive, it’s not going to help.” Of course, all Matt really told her to do in this case is get an adult, and the only other Euthanatos of particular skill she knows is already in the room, sooo… “Sonia and I will keep an eye on him, even though it sounds like raising the dead is the last thing he should be doing right now.”

Will just blinks at America. “I guess we can figure that out in a few days,” he says with an optimism he doesn’t quite feel. “Who can help Alex and Karasi with the cage for Kal? And the Arcane thing sounds like a Prime trick, maybe. America, even if you don’t go with them maybe you can get the vampires moving, and we can tell ”/characters/ursula" class=“wiki-content-link”>Ursula what we need from the Technocrats before we go anywhere. We need to pick a place for this ritual for my mom so I can… move.. everything. That’s where we need to send the backup. Is there a particularly good kind of place to do this?" he asks, finally deigning to ask Matt something directly. “Would it help if it’s in the same kind of place? Another graveyard?”

“Yes,” Matt says quickly, actually seeming grateful to Will for changing the subject. The last thing he wants to do is sit under his student and ex-student’s gaze knowing they know he’s corrupted. “Preferably by a crossroads. We need to get started before dawn but I’m not sure that actually matters anymore.” It’s going to take time for Will to find a place and move everything, but he needs to prepare too.

“I can help make the trap,” Fríða says. “We’ll need some others to guard the ritual.”

“So,” Jessica begins. “With me will be Will and Dylan, Daniel and Aaron, Ava. I will ask Ursula to come. Fríða will be working with Alex and Karasi. The Chakravanti will perform their necromancy, and that leaves America, Sapphira, the vampires and the Technocrats to guard them while they do. Does that about sum it up?”

“Wonderfully.” Alex replies to Jessica, slightly dismissively. “As for the trap. Can we use Kal’s apparent aversion to dynamic resonance to create a natural boundary for him within my Net? A prison of static inside chaos?”

“Wait…so we’re going to send almost every Time Adept left to Saturn? Shouldn’t we leave more than one behind?” Daniel finally pipes in from the sidelines.

“I have to go. Fríða is staying here.” Jessica answers. “Ursula will do what Ursula will do. That’s all we have left. Though maybe ”/characters/kouam-bekoe" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kouamé would still come." He can interpret Time senses better than Dylan can.

“The Net has to absorb all kinds of resonance because it takes them from all kinds of people,” Karasi observes. “Before it all becomes neutral. We can separate some of the Static and Entropic Resonance as it comes in. They’ll be more of the latter right now anyway.”

“I’ll find you a place,” Will says to Matt. His attention shifts to his handheld. He’s already looking for a spot that matches the parameters. Listening as the conversation flows back to Kal’s imminent prison, he nods along. “Maybe that’s something you can communicate to /my/ network,” he says absently. “The sleepers can only do so much, but the mages who’ve been helping us might be able to temper what they contribute to fuel it.”

America returns Fríða’s smile with a wink and a smile of her own. With all that is being discussed, she figures they can swap notes on Prime soon. “Fríða and I should try to work out how to amplify and use Kal’s arcane against him, now then. Once Alethia is back I’ll leave with her to get the vampire cavalry on board.”

Daniel frowns, but nods his head anyway. “Fair point.” He replies to Jessica. “It just feels a little…eggs all in one basket if this is going to be a potential suicide mission, as you said.” He crosses his arms over his chest and looks at the fourteen people currently in the room. “Though I guess we’re in do or die territory now.” He continues to stay out of the conversation about Quiet and the Net. "Should we time our departure to the equinox?

“We’re going to leave as soon as I am prepared, but definitely before Matt gets started,” Jessica says. “The timing matters less to me than getting far away from Kal.”

“Okay. Anything else, or can we split up and get started? Everyone needs to stay in touch, as much as we can.” Will… isn’t the least bit positive that the Saturn group will be able to remain in contact with everyone else, but at least the groups not headed into the Umbra can remain coordinated, right?


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